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Finland expels Russian diplomat

Finland is joining other European and North American countries in a joint response to Russia's alleged role in a nerve agent attack in England.

Sauli Niinistö
President Sauli Niinistö Image: Seppo Samuli / Lehtikuva

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s office announced late Monday afternoon that Finland, too, will expel a Russian diplomat as part of the EU’s response to the nerve gas attack in Salisbury, England.

Finland will expel "one official with diplomatic status who works in the Russian Embassy in Helsinki" and notify the Russian Ambassador of the matter. The expulsion "will be put into effect simultaneously with the corresponding actions of other member states", according to the statement.

The move came as EU governments follow through on a threat to punish Russia for the attack in Britain, which they blame on Moscow. Russia denies involvement in the March 4 attack on an ex-Russian double agent and his daughter, the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two.

Shortly before the Finnish announcement, European Council President Donald Tusk said that "already today, fourteen member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats".

Those announcing expulsions on Monday include Finland’s Baltic neighbours, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The United States, Canada and Ukraine are also deporting dozens of Russian diplomatic officials.

"Strong support" to the UK

According to a statement from Niinistö’s office, he discussed the issue with the cabinet’s Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy, and decided to give Finland’s "strong support" to the UK.

At last week’s EU summit, member states "agreed with the UK Government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible for the attack and that there is no plausible alternative explanation," the statement says. Since then EU states have planned coordinated action.

Niinistö has maintained closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin than most other EU leaders since the Ukraine crisis, citing the importance of bilateral relations. Finland has the EU's longest border with Russia, at about 1,340 km.

PM Sipilä: Carefully considered move

In a blog post just before 5pm Monday, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä wrote that he had discussed joint action with Swedish officials in particular.

“I have talked with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven several times today. Finland and Sweden will work together to the end, so that the Union can adopt a broader range of means and find a common policy,” Sipilä wrote.

“At a meeting of the President of the Republic and the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy, we decided to expel one Russian diplomat. The measure is carefully considered and proportioned,” Sipilä said in his blog.

Stockholm had not announced any expulsions by that point, but later said it would also deport one Russian diplomat.

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