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Niinistö bristles over Russia talks criticism

President Sauli Niinistö has published a statement defending his role in discussions with Russia. He was responding to criticism in a Helsingin Sanomat editorial, which argued that his actions had caused 'confusion' over Finnish foreign policy.

Sauli Niinistö.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö Image: Samppa Toivonen / AOP

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö this week took the unusual step of publishing a text on his website  to rebut claims made in Helsingin Sanomat that his actions had caused 'confusion' over Finnish foreign policy.

The paper says that Russia might be using Finland's initiatives on aviation safety in order to try and drive a wedge between Nato members.

The HS editorial suggested that Finland had been forced to defend its supposed role in a Russian initiative to negotiate the use of transponders in aviation in the Baltic Sea region. In recent years Nato has complained that Russian planes have flown in the area with their transponders turned off.

Transponder trouble

Russia has countered that Nato planes do the same—a claim Nato denies—and offered to fly only with transponders on if Nato pilots did likewise.

In his statement Niinistö clarified that he had brought up the use of transponders when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Finland in early July, and then spoke on the matter at a Nato conference in Poland. Since then Russia has suggested that this 'Niinistö's initiative' be advanced.

Separately Russia has also invited individual countries in the region for discussions. Finland has not received one of these invitations.

Niinistö set out this timeline in his statement, arguing that his co-operation with the Finnish government had worked well—there was no confusion between Prime Minister, who is responsible for EU relations, and President, who handles foreign affairs, and Niinistö had used the proper channels in formulating Finland's policy.

"Understandable"

Ex-Foreign Minister and SDP politician Erkki Tuomioja, who wears a CND badge, told Yle that he totally understood Niinistö's actions.

"It's to the point and very clear," said Tuomioja. "The only strange thing is that the Foreign Ministry did not intervene when one newspaper makes claims in a slightly weird way based on rumours from within the ministry."

Markku Kivinen of the Aleksanteri Institute at Helsinki University agreed.

"Helsingin Sanomat's line is quite tough," said Kivinen. "It includes the charge that the president did not prepare a foreign and security policy position together with ministers or ministries, or together with western partners. With that in mind it's quite understandable that the president would want to intervene."

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