In an interview with UK daily Financial Times (paywall) published on Monday, President Sauli Niinistö reflected on the current state of geopolitics, saying that the world has entered an era of strongman politics that has marginalised many small states like Finland.
He named current world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping as embodiments of “personalised global policy”.
In this age of “peak persons” Niinistö told the paper, “it’s difficult to get a seat at the table because it’s a table for the strong and powerful,” he noted.
FT reported that Niinistö did not hold back from naming Russia as a major point of concern. He borrowed an old Finnish adage to counsel EU leaders to approach discussions with Moscow with a combination of steadfastness and respect.
“A Cossack takes everything which is loose, so you have to have a very straight opinion and say it clearly.”
According to FT, Niinistö also expressed concern over the breakdown in transatlantic relations following the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. However he said it presents an opportunity for a possible rapprochement between the Kremlin and Europe and pointed to signs of a possible thaw when German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently met with Putin at Sochi.
“Friendly is too much to say, but they at least had constructive discussions.”
NATO and EU defence
Niinistö told FT that although Finland maintains good relations with Russia and remains militarily non-aligned, it is not a geopolitical pushover. He pointed out that Finland was the first country to condemn the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and complied with EU sanctions on Moscow, in spite of strong trading ties with its eastern neighbour.
Asked whether Finland will consider NATO membership as a means of bolstering security, the President suggested that the NATO card is better held than played.
“It’s a security weapon in itself. Finns do not support it and I am a Finn.”
Numerous polls have indicated that Finns do not support NATO membership. He also pointed to Finns’ readiness to defend their country, referencing an EU-wide poll that showed that 75 percent of Finns said they would be ready to defend their country, compared to just 18 percent in Germany.
Climate change and the Arctic Council
Finland is mid-way through its chairmanship of the Arctic Council and hopes to use the forum as a diplomatic channel. Niinistö said that a summit is in the planning stages and so far all council members – including presidents Trump and Putin – have expressed support for the event.
“The Arctic environment is cool enough in this very hot political climate. It would be a good combination to cool down feelings,” he quipped.
“If we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe. This is so simple,” the President concluded on a serious note.