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Niinistö: Russia-US summit unlikely to help Navalny's situation

President Niinistö said he was glad to see Biden and Putin on speaking terms but was underwhelmed about the prospect of real change.

Sauli Niinistö vieraili Pasilassa Ylen Ykkösaamussa 29. toukokuuta.
Niinistö is one of the few EU leaders to maintain a regular dialogue with Putin, usually meeting with him about twice a year. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

President Sauli Niinistö expressed some optimism about the attempt to warm up relations between the USA and Russia, but remained unconvinced when it came to concrete progress.

"The fact that the meeting took place is already progress in itself," Niinistö said, commenting on the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Speaking to Yle on Thursday morning in reference to the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, the president said he "cannot say whether there will be significant changes," because of the summit, "at least not visibly."

Niinistö also mentioned having frequently spoken about Navalny's situation with Putin and hinted that the lack of progress on that front did not come as a surprise.

Upon his return from Germany in January, Navalny was detained and jailed for alleged violations of probation. The Finnish president has previously condemned Navalny's imprisonment as an unreasonably tough move.

While Niinistö doubts there will be any dramatic changes in US-Russia relations following the summit, he highlighted the importance of peaceful dialogue between the two former superpowers for Finland's stability and security.

"It is extremely important that these world powers are on speaking terms. Even if there is no consensus, at least we know what each [country] is thinking and that creates a certain base to work from," he said, adding that he commended President Biden's attempt to amend the damage created by former President Donald Trump.

During the interview, Niinistö also spoke about China, environmental matters related to the Arctic, and Wednesday's football match between Russia and Finland.

In reference to the Arctic, Niinistö noted that "President Biden stated that it was discussed in great detail and that a follow-up could result. That is good news."

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