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Sanctions, GPS jamming on agenda during bilateral talks between Finnish, Russian presidents

President Sauli Niinistö and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Russia-backed Arctic Forum in St Petersburg.

Sauli Niinistö ja Jussi Nukari.
Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Speaking during a press briefing following bilateral discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said that the pair had discussed the regime of sanctions imposed against Russia following its annexation of Crimea nearly five years ago.

"The Russians understand that the sanctions will remain as long as the reasons for them do not go way," Niinistö said Tuesday evening.

Niinistö said that he and his Russian counterpart also touched on the issue of Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe. Putin had in the past told Niinistö that Russia was willing to retain membership of the body, but only on condition that it would acquire full membership rights.

Russia suspended payment of membership fees after the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (Pace) imposed sanctions against it for military aggression in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea annexation in 2014. Finland’s chairmanship of the Council began in November last year and will end in May.

Geopolitics over dinner

Niinistö also said that the issue of GPS signal-jamming had come up during the bilateral talks. He was referring to claims by Norwegian authorities late last year that Russia was believed to have orchestrated GPS signal disruptions during Nato exercises taking place last year. The disturbances also affected northern parts of Finland. However the Finnish head of state declined to expand on the nature of those discussions.

Niinistö told reporters that although his discussions with Putin lasted the better part of an hour, they did not get a chance to discuss international geopolitical issues. He said that he would have liked to raise matters such as Venezuela and the current global arms situation. The president said he would likely have a chance to discuss them later on Tuesday during a dinner engagement with Putin.

Niinistö did say that it was important for Arctic issues to take centre stage at this time. He noted that cooperation would strengthen efforts to mitigate climate change.

The Finnish president said that there were no differences between Finland and other Nordic states in their approach to Russia. He remarked that the leaders of Finland and Russia meet often but that the Russian president also meets with leaders of other countries.

Niinistö noted that Nordic heads were visiting Russia of their own volition and said that the presence of the Norwegian and Swedish prime ministers was significant. The president of Iceland joined Niinistö, Putin and the prime ministers of Norway and Sweden at the two-day Arctic Forum in St Petersburg.

Russia planning more commercial activity in Arctic

Speaking briefly to reporters ahead of the meeting with Niinistö, Putin said his country plans to build new harbours in the Arctic region.

He added that Russia wants to expand its fleet of icebreakers to 13 vessels. According to AP news agency, Putin said that Russia plans to significantly increase haulage across the Arctic area.

Putin also commented on bilateral relations with Finland, saying that ties between the two countries are developing well.

During a panel discussion later in the forum, the two heads of state commented on warming in the Arctic region.

Niinistö said that the Arctic region is warming twice as rapidly as the rest of the world. Putin later corrected Niinistö and said that according to Russia’s understanding, warming in the region is four times as fast as the rest of the globe.

Meanwhile during her address, Norwegian premier Erna Solberg called for respect for international law in the Arctic area.

"Respect for international law and regional cooperation are key to preserving peace and stability across borders," Solberg commented, according to AP.

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