Finnish and Russian presidents to meet at Arctic Forum

Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinistö will hold their first meeting of this year in Arkhangelsk. They will also make presentations with their Icelandic counterpart at a Russian-hosted Arctic conference. Niinistö says his main messages at the forum will be cooperation on keeping the Arctic region free of geopolitical tensions, battling climate change and protecting the environment.

Niinistö and Putin will address the conference on Thursday. Image: Kirill Kudryatsev / Pool / EPA

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö heads to north-west Russia on Thursday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The two will meet on the sidelines of a Russian-hosted Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk.

On Thursday afternoon, Niinistö and Putin will speak at a plenary session entitled 'People and the Arctic', along with Icelandic President Guðni Jóhannesson.

Arctic Russia's biggest town, Arkhangelsk lies roughly 1,000 km east of Kuhmo, Finland.

Held now for the fourth time since 2010, the ‘Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ International Arctic Forum bills itself as "the largest forum for discussing topical issues and prospects for the development of the Arctic region," including moves to "ensure the sustainable development of the Arctic" and raise the standard of living of residents.

Speakers from Asia, US and Finland

Also taking part is Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and Norway's Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Other Finnish speakers and panellists at the 2017 Forum include Timo Rautajoki, CEO of the Lapland Chamber of Commerce, Finnish Lapland Governor Mika Riipi, Finnish WWF chair Liisa Rohweder and Reko-Antti Suojanen, CEO of majority state-owned ship designer Aker Arctic.

Also taking part are officials from around Europe as well as South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Canada and the US.

Climate change and black carbon

In an interview with Russian state news agency Tass published on Tuesday, Niinistö said he plans to raise three issues at the forum. The first of these, he said, is the importance of keeping the Arctic region free from geopolitical tensions, while the second is climate change.

"This global phenomenon has been confirmed by science, but its influence is most acutely felt in the Arctic right now," he said. "It is important for us to take this problem seriously and work together to solve it," adding that he sees the fight against climate change "in a very large measure as security policy and climate change as a security issue."

"This phenomenon affects, among other issues, the availability of food, water, rising levels of the world's oceans and migration matters, in other words, major security problems," the president explained.

On a third and related note, he said he will "raise the issue of cooperation in environmental protection," citing the so-called black carbon problem in the Arctic as the most pressing issue. This refers to deposits of soot that are staining the Arctic ice, changing it from a reflector of sunlight to an absorber of heat, thus accelerating warming.

Niinistö also took part in the previous Russian-organised International Arctic Forum, which was held in the north-central town of Salekhard four years ago.

These meetings are not related to the the Arctic Council, whose eight members states include Finland and the other Nordic states as well as Russia, the US and Canada.

In January, Niinistö said he expected to meet with Putin twice this year, with the Russian leader expected to visit Finland in the early summer as part of the country's centennial celebrations. Last year, the two presidents met twice, in Russia in March and in Finland last July.