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Thursday's papers: Putin's arrival and what to expect

The print press in Finland on Thursday is understandably full of news on Russian President Vladimir Putin's one-day visit to the eastern city of Savonlinna.

Sauli Niinistö ja Vladimir Putin.
Photo from the last meeting of Niinistö and Putin in July 2016. Image: EPA / Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool

Today is the day that Russian President Vladimir Putin will arrive in Finland. Leading daily Helsingin Sanomat has a series of stories on the preparations for and expectations of his visit in the eastern city of Savonlinna.

Putin's visit to Finland is his tenth since he first became the leader in 2008. There are some concrete benefits that are anticipated from the talks: a fast train connection between Helsinki and St Petersburg is being planned, as is a large-scale St Petersburg wastewater plant.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö follows in the tradition of former President Tarja Halonen and seems to enjoy a frank but respectful relationship with Putin, the paper writes. The statesmen will fly into Savonlinna today separately, meet for talks at Hotel Punkaharju at 2 pm, hold a joint press conference at and then proceed to Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna via the S/S Saimaa steamboat for dinner and an opera performance by the Bolshoi Theatre.

HS interviews the ship's captain, who says he has decorated the 125-year-old vessel with flags to celebrate Finland's 100-year centennial. He says he also has plenty of champagne and non-alcoholic alternatives on hand for his distinguished guests. The boat has hosted famous Russian passengers in the past, too, including the son of Alexander the Third and General-Governor Bobrikov, in addition to Swedish kings and many Finnish presidents.

What will they talk about?

In another article in the series, HS asked a few experts what the two statesmen would likely be talking about. First up will be economic cooperation, says Arkady Moshes, a Russia-EU relations expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

"Trade and tourism are up and the presidents will want to discuss how to keep that good thing going. Of all of the countries on the Baltic Sea, Russia has the most functional and good relationship with Finland. Bilateral relations are virtually problem-free: Finland is not protesting the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, and Rosatom and Fennovoima's nuclear plant project in Pyhäjoki is making progress" he says.

Second on the list will be security in the Baltic Sea region. Markku Kangaspuro from the Helsinki University's Alexander Institute says "Increased Russian military exercises on the Baltic Sea and troop presence is negative and does little to instil confidence, from the Finnish perspective. The presidents will probably discuss this and clarify what is and is not happening, to dispel misconceptions." 

The remaining three topics the experts say will be discussed include Arctic cooperation, environmental protection (specifically cleaning up the Baltic Sea) and border issues.

Border issues high on the agenda

Aamulehti, a paper out of Tampere likewise asks Alexander Institute's Hanna Smith about the visit. She says Finland must be prepared to do the groundwork to ensure that Finland's relationship with Russia stays an amicable one.

"Finland in particular has to work hard to make sure that the relationship doesn't deteriorate. The risk does exist," says Smith.

State visits are the most visible component of this diplomacy, she says, but it is still just a small piece in the puzzle.

"Several larger long-term objectives could have been in the works for a long time, and the meetings give them a chance to evaluate their progress and see if they are past the finish line or if they are so far from their goal that there's no point in continuing," she tells AL.

She says the choice of eastern Savonlinna as the meeting venue may also reveal that border crossings will be high on the agenda.

"Border crossings are a topic of mutual interest that will naturally come up. Things like how to make the process as flexible as possible and if a new international crossing point would be needed," says Smith.

Hundreds of police in Savonlinna

The Kaleva newspaper from Oulu says the visit is expected to run late into the night, but preliminary data on the specifics of Putin's visit released earlier in the week indicated that Putin would not spend the night.

The paper says concrete barriers have been placed in the seaside areas and covered in flowers, while restrictions on maritime, air and road traffic will be enforced. Hundreds of security personnel will be monitoring the area, and police advise Savonlinna residents to take care of their business in the morning, as parking will be limited after 2 pm and certain road connections between Savonlinna and Punkaharju will be closed once the statesmen arrive.

Mother Nature cooperates

And lastly, Turun Sanomat, the paper out of southwest Turku, sings 'Here Comes the Sun'. Maybe Putin engaged in some of Russia's famous cloud seeding to keep the rain away, but TS rejoices in weather news that says that temperatures may exceed the magical 25-degree Celsius marker today in the south for the first time this summer. As a matter of fact, it will be warm and partly sunny throughout the country, with a chance of rain or thundershowers only in Lapland.

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