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Finnish President on Russia: How do you react to behaviour from another planet?

Sauli Niinistö spoke at an international summit on Saturday focused on forging a diplomatic way forward on the Ukraine crisis.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö drew parallels between events unfolding in Ukraine and Soviet efforts to destabilise Finnish society in the lead-up to the Winter War.

"Stalin thought he would split the nation, and it's easy to go and invade Finland. The total opposite happened. People united and we saw the same in Ukraine…I feel that we have in the western world the same feeling—we are being challenged but we are together."

"No special relationship"

Niinistö has drawn attention lately for what international news outlets call his special insight into Russia's Vladimir Putin.

The Finnish president, however, denied having a special relationship with the Russian leader.

"I have to confess that I don't consider that I personally, or Finland, have any specific relation with Russia or its leaders."

He noted that Finland has a long history living alongside Russia and "that history surely isn't very beautiful."

The French president was recently quoted as suggesting "Finlandisation" as a possible solution for Ukraine. During the Cold War Finland was essentially a buffer state between the Soviet Union and the west.

Niinistö brushed off comments about "Finlandisation," saying it hadn't existed for 40 years, instead choosing to highlight rankings showing Finland as one of the happiest and least corrupt countries in the world.

"This model is very open and free for use," he told the audience.

He, however, conceded that nothing has been more important to Finns than the opportunity to live in peace.

"This situation [in Ukraine] is bizarre," Niinistö said, asking the audience whether anyone six months ago had imagined Russia would in early 2022 be keeping everyone on their toes.

"What we see now is Russia pushing two steps, then taking back one," he said.

Niinistö emphasised that the EU, US and UK, form a united front.

"Even if Russia thinks they can poke holes in that protection, none of that has succeeded so far," he said, adding that any new sanctions against Russia would make a "huge hole in the Russian economy."

The question now, according to Niinistö, was how to respond to behaviour seemingly coming from a different realm: "How do you react to behaviour from a different planet?"

Earlier on Saturday Niinistö tweeted (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that he had met with Germany's new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, saying "NATO's door is open, no doubt about that."

This week's episode of the All Points North podcast asks why "Finlandisation" is such a touchy subject in Finland.