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Thursday's papers: Niinistö's sunny NATO report, Aarnio's murder connection and Oksanen's Finlandisation missive

Today's papers discuss the Finnish President's optimism ahead of the Helsinki Summit, a Guardian article from author Sofi Oksanen, and the latest on Jari Aarnio.

Sofi Oksanen
Best-selling Finnish author Sofi Oksanen Image: Toni Härkönen

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö's late-night comments on the NATO summit yesterday evening in Brussels did not make the print edition of Finland's major newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, but a story on his positive take is available in the paper's online edition.

Niinistö says that he is "much more optimistic" about European and US relations after the NATO meeting, where he and Sweden's prime minister Stefan Löfven were the only leaders of countries that are not members of the military alliance with a seat at the table. The President told the paper that not one presentation out of the over 20 that were delivered at the NATO summit had anything derogatory to say about transatlantic cooperation or the future of the alliance.

"The general expectation was that if this (NATO) summit went well, then the Helsinki Summit will also be a success," he said to HS.

Despite harsh words on German military spending from US President Trump, the NATO summit participants reached unanimous decisions on all of the issues that were on the Wednesday agenda. This prompted Niinistö to say that NATO had presented a "united message" ahead of the bilateral talks between the US and Russian leaders in Helsinki on July 16.

Among other things, the military alliance agreed on expedited expansion of its military power, and to formally invite the Balkan state of Macedonia, recently renamed Northern Macedonia, to start accession talks.

"I think it is very important that the 'open doors' principle was once again clearly presented. NATO's doors are open to expansion," the Finnish President told the paper.

Murderer lived in Aarnio's lover's flat

Finland's most-read paper's front page item this Thursday was instead news of new charges for former narcotics police chief and convicted criminal Jari Aarnio – who can now add suspicion of murder to his list of nefarious dealings. Aarnio is suspected of negligence of duty in allowing a hit job that resulted in the death of a Swedish-Turkish underworld figure Volkan Ünsal in 2003.

The paper says that its sources reveal that Aarnio and a former Helsinki gang leader associated with him, Keijo Vilhunen, have been detained in Helsinki. Both had been freed by the Helsinki District Court last month as they await drug charges. It explains in more detail one way in which the two men were directly connected to the murder.

Ünsal was killed in October 2003 after leaving a witness protection programme in Helsinki's district of Vuosaari, in an apartment rented by a former prostitute, Saara, with whom Aarnio was having an affair at the time. Saara no longer lived in the flat and had sublet her place to the man who was eventually convicted for the crime, one of four suspects in the case who were given life sentences.

Saara told HS that she had originally sublet the apartment to the former underworld figure Vilhunen, at Aarnio's request. Two police sources told the paper earlier that Aarnio had behaved strangely during preliminary investigation questioning about the case last year.

Oksanen: Russia seeks further Finlandisation

The tabloid Iltalehti and Ilta-Sanomat both devote column space this Thursday to Finnish author Sofi Oksanen's contribution to the British newspaper The Guardian. The best-selling writer and dual citizen of Estonia and Finland wrote about Finland's "neutral" image in the world.

"When the news broke that a Putin-Trump summit would be held in Helsinki, some comments made my ears prick up. In the international media there was talk of Finland having been chosen as a venue because it is “neutral ground”, a country deemed to have a history of neutrality, and where east-west meetings had been held during the cold war. But Finland today is nothing of the sort. It is a member of the European Union. It is not somewhere in a grey zone between Europe and Russia," she said.

She conflates the persistent idea that Finland is neutral to the era of Finlandisation, which she says allowed the Soviet Union to use its influence to interfere in its weaker neighbour's affairs. She says the impact of Finlandisation could even be felt in her family dynamic, as her Estonian-born mother was worried about "voicing the wrong opinion" which might spark retribution against her loved ones.

"Finland's Finlandisation served Moscow's agenda well during the cold war, because it looked like a Nordic democracy and it created the impression the Soviet Union was able to live peacefully with those on its borders. No wonder Putin's regime seems tempted to duplicate that scenario today in parts of Europe – not least in Ukraine. As a Finn, I know how bad a solution that would be," she says.

Read her entire Guardian article here.

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