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Niinistö and Putin meet in Russia

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö is in St Petersburg, Russia attending an Arctic Forum where he will meet with Russian President Vladmir Putin on Tuesday.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö Allegro-junassa matkalla Venäjän isännöimään arktiseen foorumiin Pietariin.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö aboard the Allegro train from Helsinki to St Petersburg on Monday. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday in St Petersburg is the fifth Russian state-backed international forum of its kind being held with aim of promoting cooperation and sustainable development in the Arctic Region. The theme of this year’s Forum is "The Arctic: An Ocean of Opportunities".

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö was expected to deliver a speech at the plenary session and to hold bilateral talks with President Vladimir Putin in connection with the forum on Tuesday.

Other participants in the gathering in St Petersburg are the president of Iceland and the prime ministers of Norway and Sweden.

Finland currently holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which is an inter-governmental organisation for cooperation and coordination among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants.

Concerned about new Cold War

In a meeting with the press while travelling to Russia on Monday, Niinistö said that he expected to discuss bilateral relations, as he normally does, with his Russian counterpart.

"Of course I'll ask about Ukraine. Also the Kerch Strait incident, and above all what is happening to the prisoners, the Ukrainian sailors, that is," said Niinistö.

Story continues after photo.

Vladimir Putin ja Sauli Niinistö Sotshissa.
Russian Federation Vladimir Putin (right) and President of Finland Sauli Niinistö at a press conference during their meeting in Sochi, Russia on Wednesday, 22nd August, 2018. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

In November, Russian forces fired upon and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels that were passing through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, detaining 24 Ukrainian sailors.

Niinistö went on to say that he is concerned that the international order may disintegrate, causing a return to a situation like that of the Cold War.

"That is the way we are headed. I am a little concerned that we last lived through a Cold War in the 1960s. The Cold War came to a complete end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now we are moving in the direction of even the old agreements being scrapped."

Tuesday's discussions are also expected to touch upon Russia's involvement in the Council of Europe and whether it may withdraw from the organisation.

Finland is currently chairing the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. Russia, which is one of the council's biggest financial supporters, has withheld membership payments after its voting rights were suspended over the conflict in Ukraine.

"It is now a question of whether or not Russia can do something so that it can resume participation in the work there [in the Council of Europe]," Niinistö told the media. "If Russia withdraws from that, too, its dialogue with Europe will approach zero."

Updated 9.4.2019 at 12:246to include further background on the International Arctic Forum.

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