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Finnish president: Dialog with Putin is direct and clear

Sauli Niinisto has spoken to TASS about Russian-Finnish relations and his plans for the 2018 presidential election

Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 27 will pay a visit to the Finnish city of Savonlinna for talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and participation in events on the occasion of the country’s 100th independence anniversary. Ahead of the visit Sauli Niinisto granted an exclusive interview to TASS First Deputy Director-General Mikhail Gusman. He talked about his expectations of the forthcoming negotiations, the dialogue with Russia, and events timed for the country’s 100th anniversary and shared plans regarding the presidential election due in 2018.

- Mr. President, we are meeting several days ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Finland. What do you expect from this visit and how is your personal dialogue with the Russian president going on?

- We have met many times, and thanks to these meetings our communication has become rather clear and frank. We can discuss anything. This time bilateral relations will certainly shift to center-stage, we have seen slight upsurge for the better in the economies of both Russia and Finland. This means more activity in the economic sector. I will also be curious to learn from President Putin his view on global developments, as a host of events that take place these days.

- If I’m not mistaken you have visited Russia eight times. What are your bonds with this country and are there places you like to go to again and again?

We have a very natural bond – neighborliness

- We have a very natural bond – neighborliness. Regrettably, for a president it may be somewhat difficult to make trips to places that you would like to see again, because visits are formal and official and invariably involve security matters. But, of course, St. Petersburg is very close to us historically. It is a remarkable and very beautiful city. Russia has many places of interest. It was a great pleasure for me to visit Siberia. It was very exotic. And in the south I was in Sochi. It was a good experience.

This time President Putin’s visit to Finland will have special significance, as the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of its independence. What does this date mean for the Finns and how is Finland going to mark this great public holiday?

- For us, Finns, it is of course a really significant date. Over the hundred years Finland has changed considerably. We have managed to build a Nordic welfare state. It is excellent President Putin will come and celebrate this event of historic importance to us.

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meeting on the sidelines of the 2017 Arctic: Territory of Dialogue International Arctic Forum, 2017 Mikhail Metzel/TASS
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meeting on the sidelines of the 2017 Arctic: Territory of Dialogue International Arctic Forum, 2017
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

- Other dates worth mentioning are the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Finland and the 15th anniversary of the treaty on cooperation between our countries. They interact in a variety of spheres but which of these spheres look most promising to you?

- I believe it’s cooperation between ordinary people. Annually, we fix millions of border crossings. A lot of Russian tourists are again visiting Finland, and their numbers keep growing. And I know that many Finns also like to visit Russia - they visit St. Petersburg, Karelia, go on shopping tours and travel to many places of interest. And in my opinion this cooperation is the most important. But of course we have active relations in the economic sector - well-established mutual trade, and also political contacts, and this is important.

- In one respect Finland is an example for the whole world. At the World Economic Forum it was called the safest country of all. I’d even touch wood. It is a very important aspect. How does Finland manage to be the security champion in this troubled world?

- It is true that we were named the world’s most stable country, whatever that might mean. I believe that we should look back on our one-hundred-year-long history. We’ve built a democracy where law, order and equality play a major role. And I believe that these two factors have brought about a situation where the Finns trust the Finnish system. So I’d really touch wood at this point. I hope that it will remain this way further on.

- Finland this year took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. It is an important cooperation format with a variety of problems involved. How do you see their solution?

- Climate change is the greatest problem of all. Should the Arctic lose its ice cap, it will be a global loss that will affect all. President Putin and I have already had a chance to discuss that. I do believe that Finland will be able to make progress on that issue during its chairmanship. Of course, we count on assistance from Russia and hope that we’ll persuade US President Donald Trump to join in somehow.

- He has a special stance of his own.

- It’s true, but he seems to have eased his views to a certain extent. We hope that this process will go on.

- Next year your country and our country will see presidential elections. President Vladimir Putin has not declared his plans yet. Have you made up your mind regarding next year or are you still thinking?

- I’ve decided that I will run for president if I’m asked to. We have an association of electioneering agents that is currently conducting a sign-up campaign. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but conducting an election campaign is not the most pleasant part of this process.

- I’d like to wish you success. Russia next year will host the World Football Cup finals. You led Finland’s Football Federation once and in the capacity of the president-elect you may become a guest of this event.

- I believe that regardless of whether I’m elected or not I’ll be able to get to St. Petersburg virtually in no time. As any football fan I find the chance to visit games very lucrative.

- Then we’ll be looking forward to your visit to Russia next year. Thank you so much, Mr. President.

- Thank you for the opportunity to address the Russian audience.