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Thursday's papers: Åland visit, Estonian president, and Eremenko surfaces

Thursday's papers include coverage of tensions in the Baltic, Estonia's new president and a Finnish footballer who is mysteriously out of action in Moscow.

Ahvenanmaan lippu ja merta.
The picturesque Åland archipelago has been in the news after Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö made some surprising comments over the weekend. Image: Markku Ojala / AOP

Åland is in the news this week after Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö suggested over the weekend that Finland could consider changing the demilitarised status of the autonomous province. The islands have been demilitarised since the 1920s, when a multilateral treaty designated them as part of Finland, but banned the stationing of troops there.

That could create a 'vacuum', according to the minister, and he suggested Finland might want to fill it.

In the background is Russia's actions in Crimea and Donetsk, where covert military operations created 'facts on the ground' before Ukraine could react. Sweden recently accelerated plans to station troops on Gotland, for instance, as tensions in the Baltic Sea increased.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and President Sauli Niinistö both slapped down that suggestion on Tuesday, saying that Finland is not about to reopen long-standing multi-lateral agreements despite the possible undercover threat from Russia. Even so, Ilta-Sanomat on Thursday decided to go to the province itself to see if it could spot any 'little green men', and see if the locals were concerned.

"No politics here"

The vox pop section of the IS story is a good reminder that Mariehamn is a small town, far removed from great power politics, and residents mostly want it to stay that way. "No politics here," said a hairdresser, while a stay-at-home Mum said she hadn't heard much talk about the topic "but then again I've mostly been with the kids".

The journalist said that most of the people he encountered were more interested in Sunday's football match, in which IFK Mariehamn could win the Finnish championship, than the security situation.

He had better luck with security experts, who apparently considered the minister's comments ill-considered, and worried that they might give the Kremlin an opportunity to fire up a new barrage of anti-Finland rhetoric.

"Maybe we should think a little before we speak," said the anonymous expert.

Kaljulaid's Finnish thoughts

Finland's neighbour Estonia has a new president, after Kersti Kaljulaid replaced Toomas Hendrik Ilves following a vote in the Estonian parliament. Her first foreign visit starts on Thursday, when she heads over the Gulf of Finland to visit Helsinki. In honour of the occasion, Helsingin Sanomat has an interview with the newly-minted head of state.

The interview included plenty of coverage of security issues, with Kaljulaid saying that she fully respects Finland's decisions not to seek membership of Nato. She's also a big fan of the proposed undersea rail link between Helsinki and Tallinn, as part of the proposed Rail Baltica line all the way to Berlin.

She's also a skilled linguist, saying that her first conversation with her Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö was in Finnish, and that she plans to address Estonia's Russian-speaking minority in their mother tongue.

Eremenko breaks cover

Finnish footballer Roman Eremenko has been out of action since 6 October, when Uefa made the shock announcement that Eremenko was banned from all football activities for 30 days. That meant he was not allowed to play for Finland against Iceland that evening, and since then he's been unable to play for his club, CSKA Moscow or even train with them.

The reason for the suspension has still not been officially announced, and that mystery has led to intense interest and speculation. MTV Sport reported that it was due to a doping offence, but that has not been confirmed. Russian media have variously claimed that the substance involved was the popular Swedish tobacco product snus, or even cocaine.

Ilta-Sanomat on Thursday reports that the Russian paper Sport Express spotted Eremenko in central Moscow, and tried an interview through the car door.

"Right now I can't say anything," said the ex-FF Jaro midfielder.

But will this be resolved within a month, asked the journalist.

"I think so," came the answer.

And then the Finn gave a quick "lads, I can't...." as he shut the door and sped off.

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