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Thursday's papers: Finland on Middle East, fighter upgrade plans, impact of mild winter

Most morning papers reported on discussions between the Finnish foreign minister and his counterparts in both Iraq and Iran.

Pekka Haavisto
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto Image: Kimmo Brandt / AOP

Helsinki's Helsingin Sanomat was among the papers reporting on reaction to a Wednesday address in Washington by US President Donald Trump. Following Trump's remarks, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto noted that while Trump did not seem to want to escalate tensions with Iran, he did increase pressure on Europe.

"But, this is really nothing new because the differences of views between Europe and the United States are known. I think that President Trump was moderate, which is good news."

On Wednesday President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin issued condemnations of the missile strike by Iran on Tuesday night that targeted US installations in Iraq.

Also during the day, Haavisto had telephone discussions with Iran's Foreign Minister Javid Zarif and Iraq's Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim.

Haavisto told the press that his key message to Zarif was that it is out of the question for Iran to strike at crisis management operations in Erbil as Finland is there fighting against Isis in cooperation with Iran and Iraq.

Finns 'welcome and needed' in Iraq

Helsingin Sanomat quotes the Finnish foreign minister as saying that in his discussion with his Iraqi counterpart, he pressed him for an answer about Iraq's position on international crisis management troops, whether Iraq can protect them and if agreements on their presence are still in force.

"The foreign minister assured me that the Finns and others taking part in crisis management operations are welcome and needed in Iraq," Haavisto said.

According to Foreign Minister Haavisto, Finland has ten of its nationals engaged in civilian crisis management in Baghdad and 80 military personnel stationed at Erbil in northern Iraq.

"I stressed to Iraq's foreign minister that if the safety of Finns in Baghdad cannot or will not be guaranteed, we should be informed immediately," Haavisto added.

The newsstand tabloid Ilta-Sanomat writes that Finland should be prepared for a rapid evacuation of its troops from Iraq.

In an editorial, the paper points out that Finland has a long tradition of UN peacekeeping, especially in the Middle East. That has been extended to cooperation with the Americans and Nato forces in the battle against terrorism. Finnish soldiers have served in this role in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ilta-Sanomat notes that there have been losses, as well. "The fact that there are missiles raining down around them is nothing new for Finnish troops. They are used to it," the paper writes.

"For army officers, the Iraq assignment is easy to deal with. This assignment will be completed and it involves risks. For this reason it is understandable that the Finnish government announced that the Finns will remain in Iraq until Iraq orders them out, or until the OIR operation is dismantled. This is probably the position of the leadership of Finland's defence forces. This is not influenced by the knowledge that Germany has already repositioned some of its soldiers elsewhere," writes Ilta-Sanomat.

The paper does concede, however, that the decision to stay or go is a political, not a military one.

"In the messy religious and geopolitical tangle of the Middle East, the position of these Finnish troops can change quickly," Ilta-Sanomat adds. "Political and military leaders are well aware of this - a plan for swift evacuation should be kept close at hand."

Change in fighter plans

Turku's Turun Sanomat reports a change in plans for purchasing a fleet of new fighter aircraft for the Finnish Air Force which means that country could get more, or fewer, than originally planned.

Finland has requested bids on a fighter replacement project from five suppliers: Eurofighter BAE Systems, France's Dassault, Sweden's Saab and the American companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Originally that request covered the planned purchase of 64 planes and their support systems.

Basing its report on a blog posting by the head of the programme at the Ministry of Defence, Lauri Puranen, Turun Sanomat says that rather than specifying a precise number of aircraft, Finland is setting a cap on the cost at 10 billion euros.

Instead of quantity, the Defence Ministry project is looking at the overall quality of the deal.

"Even though the number of fighters has a significant effect on crisis prevention, the credibility of Finland's defence system and capacity, the capabilities [of the aircraft] have the same importance," wrote Puranen.

According to Puranen, not all the suppliers in the bidding may be able to offer Finland 64 of their fighters within the budget frame now set. Another issue that may restrict Finland's choice is the lifetime costs of operating the planes, which must also be covered by the 10 billion euro spending cap.

Impact of the mild winter

Tampere's Aamulehti looks at some of the effects of this year's mild, wet winter.

The paper notes that in many cities the weather has eased work for maintenance crews and saved money. In Tampere, the city has had little need to sand slippery streets and as a result has had fewer blocked drains to clean out. It quotes a city official as saying that last winter crews cleaned 5,000 to 6,000 truckloads of snow off the streets. This year, there has been no need. The city had snow ploughs out only once in December.

However, the wet weather and fluctuating temperatures have been hard on gravel roads in rural areas, leading to plenty of potholes. Paved road surfaces have also suffered from repeated freezing and thawing.

According to Aamulehti, forest harvesting operations in many parts of the country have been interrupted because the forest floor has been soaked and too soft for the operation of heavy machinery.

Wildlife, for the most part, is benefitting from the weather, though. Food is abundant and more easily accessible for birds and animals dependent on seeds and plants. The lack of snow is not, however, a good thing for animals who depend on white winter fur to hide them from predators.

And, as Yle News reported Wednesday, the mild weather is causing problems for Finland's endangered Saimaa seals.

The Kuopio-based Savon Sanomat says that if you're in Finland and you don't know if it's winter or not, you probably live in the south or the west of the country.

Even though these areas do not have snow cover, Savon Sanomat warns that January can be unpredictable, as was the case in 2016, when on the 8th of the month, when Merikarvia in the Satakunta region got 73 cm of snow in a single day.

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