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Friday's papers: Niinistö in DC, vital submarine cables, women in the army, and a Lahti fire

Finnish media cover a US speech by the Finnish President, another possible security risk in the Airiston Helmi case, and a tell-all book from female soldiers.

Presidentti Niinistö keskustelee tutkija Strobe Talbottin kanssa ajatushautomo Brookings-instituutissa Washingtonissa 27. syyskuuta.
Strobe Talbott and the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the Brookings Institute on September 27. Image: Katri Makkonen / Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

While former US President Barack Obama made a short visit to Helsinki yesterday for a business seminar, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö was in Washington speaking at the Brookings Institution. The leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that in his speech to the gathering, Niinistö expressed concerns about the "fundamental transformation" that is taking place in international relations.

Niinistö said that the west is rapidly losing its sense of community and turning inward, something he called a "dangerous development". HS writes that he called for stronger Europe in the light of this, saying that "without it, we are much more vulnerable to external threats".

The Finnish President arrived in Washington directly from New York, where he attended US President Donald Trump's address to the United Nations.

"Beijing and Moscow certainly have paid attention to the signs of a rift in the transatlantic bond. It cannot be in US interests to have your major adversaries gain a bigger foothold on our continent. A strong and united Europe is better equipped to resist them," Niinistö said.

He said he was aware that change must also come from European countries themselves.

"For seventy years, NATO has to a large degree meant the United States. The Americans have shouldered the lion’s share of the burden of Europe’s security. It has been highly valuable for Europe. And we fully understand why the US expects Europe to do more for its own security," Niinistö said.

Niinistö also brought up Article 42 (7) of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which declares that member states have an “obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power” if another member is under attack.

"I am glad that we are finally beginning to address what that would mean in a crisis situation. A core task of any union is to protect its own citizens," the Finnish President said.

After his speech, HS reports that Niinistö was asked by a representative of the American military how to proceed when dealing with Russia. The Finnish President reportedly replied that the Finns have an old saying, "A Cossack will take everything that isn't nailed down", so the best course of action is to get things in order and secure them.

Airiston Helmi properties near important undersea data cables

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat continues coverage of the Airiston Helmi case, saying that the southwest archipelago properties held by the real estate company under investigation for money laundering and other financial crimes are located near important seabed data cables. IS features several maps showing the cables, focusing on two important cables that "connect Finland with the west".

The first is the 800-kilometre BCS North cable, owned by the network operator Telia, which runs from a base near Stockholm via Turku, Helsinki and Kotka to Russia. The second is the SFS-4 cable co-owned by Telia and Elisa, which runs 254 kilometres along the seabed from Norrtälje, Sweden to Turku.

The tabloid reports that security policy expert Ari Pesonen wrote a blog in 2015 pointing out how Russia could seek to cut Finland's data connections during a military conflict. He said that all of the communications cables that connect Finland with the rest of the world run under the sea.

First-hand accounts from women in the army

Another major tabloid Iltalehti writes on Friday about a new book called "Häiriö! Nainen intissä" (Disruption! Women in the army) by Kaisa-Maria Tölli.

Tölli holds a doctorate in education and is herself a lieutenant in the Finnish Defence Forces reserves and former peacekeeper. Her book interviews 52 women who have served in the Finnish military, and the picture that it reveals is far from rosy.

"The army is a man's world, with no room for women, or any other kinds of differences," the author summarizes.

Tölli says that 70 percent of the women who volunteer for the army in Finland suffer from strain injuries due to the intense physical burden. But she says the larger problem is the blow to their self-confidence.

Over half of the women in her book said they were bullied during their voluntary service, and Tölli cites the Defence Force's own statistics that indicate that close to 40 percent of female conscripts have experienced sexual harassment. One-quarter of the young women that volunteer to serve in the Finnish army drop out before their service period is over.

Tölli argues that the situation is a security risk for Finland because female soldiers now feel like outsiders in their garrisons, and this would no doubt affect unit cohesiveness in battle. She offers nine improvements to the current system in Finland, including improved communications and call-ups, and better grouping of female soldiers in the units.

In the long-term, the author suggests that Finland switch from its current system of universal conscription for men to civil service for everyone of a certain age, to remedy the problem.

Shopping centre fire in Lahti

And local paper Salon Seudun Sanomat finishes the paper review week with news of a major fire overnight in the southern city of Lahti. A blaze was reported at the Mukkula shopping centre there at 4 am, and by 6:30 firefighters had the situation largely under control.

Rescue services say that most of the food court, up to a fifth of the 3,500-square-metre mall, was destroyed in the flames. The paper says that according to the information it had available, no one was hurt in the incident.

Edit: Updated at 7:14 pm on 28 September to correct the name of the think tank President Niinistö spoke to. It was the Brookings Institution, rather than the Brookings Institute.

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