After touching down at the Helsinki Airport just shy of 4.30pm, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally met his host Sauli Niinistö at the Presidential Palace in downtown Helsinki just after 5.00pm, around two hours behind schedule.
The heads exchanged pleasantries as their meeting began, with Putin saying via an interpreter that bilateral relations between the two countries had developed positively.
The Russian President’s arrival in Finland resulted in a major security operation in which the route between the airport and the city centre was closed to allow his motorcade to proceed unfettered.
Helsinki police also said on Twitter that mass transit had been suspended on Mannerheimintie, while the market square opposite the official presidential residence had been cleared out and sealed off to the public, catching many tourists off-guard.
Activists with a message for Putin
Meanwhile NGOs and activists took advantage of Putin’s visit to the Finnish capital to send messages about the country’s human rights record, among other things.
Human rights organisation Amnesty said it wanted to use the opportunity to raise the issue of free elections while Putin was in Helsinki.
Three young activists, Jasmiina Salin, Iida Niva and Maria Kiiskinen of the National Coalition Party’s youth wing said that they wanted to draw attention to concerns about democracy and minority rights in Russia.
Meanwhile demonstrators representing another organisation, Fee Russia (Vapaa Venäjä) called for the arrest of the Russian president.
On Tuesday President Niinistö told an annual gathering of Finnish ambassadors that he might raise the issue of ongoing demonstrations in Moscow with Putin.
Protesters have been picketing and calling for free elections, following a decision to ban some opposition figures from local elections.
Niinistö said that there are no special frictions in Finnish-Russian bilateral relations and he stressed the importance of maintaining open discussion channels.
The presidents and their staff completed the working day trip with dinner at the historic former island fortress, Suomenlinna.