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Finnish leaders react with apprehension to US, British and French air strikes on Syria

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö and Foreign Minister Timo Soini agree the strikes were expected. Both say they are wary of Russia's response, with Soini fearing a possible "cycle of retribution".

Yhdysvaltain presidentti Donald Trump ilmoitti tapaavansa Pohjois-Korean johtajan lähiviikkoina.
US President Donald Trump announced the strikes early Saturday morning. Image: Mike Theiler / EPA

The US, Britain and France implemented a missile strike on three targets in Syria in response to a suspected poison gas attack early Saturday morning, Finnish time. Finland's leaders agree it was not a surprise.

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö says the strikes were expected, considering the dramatic events of the last week.

"There had been talk of this already early in the week, when French President Emmanuel Macron said that a strike would occur within the next few days. He described the targets already then," he said.

Three targets were destroyed

At 4:37 am Finnish time on Saturday, US President Donald Trump announced that the US, Britain and France had together launched more than 100 missiles at three of Syria's main chemical weapons facilities.

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the strike as “limited and targeted” and said she had authorized the British action after intelligence indicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Douma last Saturday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the strikes had been limited to Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

Trump later raised the prospect of further strikes if Assad’s government again used chemical weapons.

Awaiting Russia's response

The world is now apprehensively awaiting the Russian response to the strikes.

The Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, sent a Twitter response to the strike at 5:23 am.

"A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris," he said.

Finland's President Niinistö says that when it comes to Russia, Macron's early warnings were very clear, and that the front line effort was well coordinated in order to avoid anything unexpected from happening.

Sauli Niinistö
Sauli Niinistö Image: Yle

"What will result from this? We don't know yet. I have noticed, however, over the last week that President Putin has contributed very few comments on the situation. We are now dependent on what he will say when he comes forward. […] I would imagine that they are now carrying out a similar sizing up of the possible scenarios, trying to exercise caution not to ramp things up in terms of warfare," Niinistö says.

Both of the great powers have resorted to inflamed rhetoric before the attack. Niinistö says that it is possible to read between the lines.

"Their language has been tough, but I believe that there are connections behind it all that will ensure that nothing unanticipated will happen to set off an even bigger fire," he says.

Soini: West was left with no choice

Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini says that the country's foreign and security policy leadership has discussed the situation from Finland's vantage point.

Timo Soini
Timo Soini Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

"The use of chemical weapons is a war crime. The western countries find themselves in a predicament in which they cannot leave it without a response. If they hadn't, people would have wondered why the west isn't reacting in any way. Does it mean that chemical weapons can be used without consequence?" the minister says.

He says Finland condemns the use of chemical weapons, but still hopes that the situation can be solved in a peaceful way, instead of tensions building.

"The only way forward is observation of an international, rule-based system. A system based on strength and violence is always the lesser choice," he says.

Soini says there is a danger that a cycle of retribution will now begin.

"The entire situation is very difficult, in terms of the big picture. The war in Syria has gone on now for seven years, and the killing just continues. It is a horrible tragedy and failure on a global and cross-national scale," he says.

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