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President Sauli Niinistö at a press conference during the Kultaranta Talks in Naantali, Finland on June 19 2016. Picture: Juhani Kandell/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

President Sauli Niinistö rose from his seat with a mic in his hand.

Some of the Swedes, who were invited to the two-day discussions at the president’s official summer residence in Naantali, Kultaranta, were questioning the rumored visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in early July.

“In Sweden, we have a hard time to understand it,” said Karin Enström, the former defence minister of Sweden, current Swedish Moderate Party politician and vice chair of the Swedish Parliamentary Defence Committee. “I don’t think that Putin would in this way be invited to Sweden.”

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Karin Enström, the vice chair of the Swedish Parliamentary Defence Committee. Picture: Matti Porre/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Ambassador René Nyberg justified the visit with a long, common border and with a wide, international cooperation. The Swedes, however, stood behind, Enström’s opinion.

The chair of the Swedish Parliamentary Defense Committee Allan Widman was asked, whether the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven would invite Putin to Sweden.

A silence stood in the room.

“No, I really don’t think he would.”

The panel discussion had gone too far without the host stepping in. President Niinistö was supposed to be a mere listener, a link between the Swedish politicians and the Finnish counterparts.

“I didn’t expect to become a member of the panel but as it happened, let’s talk about the matter briefly.”

According to Niinistö, dialogue is of the uppermost importance with Russia. He also referred to the US, which is involved in discourse with our Eastern neighbour in a much deeper level than seen in public. “I’ve heard criticism, though it has been years, also from the Baltic countries and now apparently from Sweden too,” he said. “I think you are now a bit behind your times.”

“I think you are now a bit behind your times,” President Niinistö said.

Niinistö justified his opinion by referring to the recent visit of the European Comission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. Niinistö also added that never has he been asked that Finland would change its politics regarding the sanctions against Russia or its judgement toward the annexation of Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. “And never has there been any wishes or demands how Finland should organize its policy in foreign politics or how Finland should cooperate with Sweden, the EU or directly with the United States or how to develop its Nato partnership.”

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President Sauli Niinistö receiving the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at Kultaranta in Naantali, Finland on June 19 2016. Picture: Juhani Kandell/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The Kultaranta Talks opened on Sunday in the spirit of Finnish-Swedish cooperation. The main guest at the talks was the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. In their opening remarks, both national leaders stressed the importance of closer defence cooperation between the two countries.

“Finland and Sweden have a history of responding to the challenges of the time. One approach to this involves engaging in closer cooperation,” Niinistö said upon opening the debate on Sunday evening. “Alongside defence and military cooperation, a closer foreign policy partnership between Finland and Sweden is needed.”

President Niinistö pointed out that all four pillars of the security policy are covered in the recent Finnish foreign and security policy report: defence capability, integration with the west, relations with Russia and international law. “Peace and security are the aim of our active policy of seeking stability. This requires both dialogue and preparation.”

The president believes that Finland and Sweden are united in highlighting the importance of international law and consensus, especially the security of small countries. “Have we reached the point where the significance of such issues is being forgotten and confidence in them is waning? If so, how can they be restored to their rightful position?” the president asked.

The president believes that Finland and Sweden are united in highlighting the importance of international law and consensus, especially the security of small countries.
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Picture: Matti Porre/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

In his speech, President Niinistö also considered the importance of a credible national defence. “We believe that strong armed forces prevent conflict by raising the threshold for aggression. It is perhaps less frequently recognized that they also create interest in partnerships. In this way, a strong defence capability provides options in the unlikely event of deterrence proving insufficient.”

Niinistö pointed out that the threats represented by hybrid warfare can take unexpected forms. “It can pose a threat to all aspects of our lives, in which case all citizens form part of our national defence. This restores the neglected notion of national resolve to a position of importance in relation to defence.”

In his speech, President Niinistö referred to the changed security situation characterised by the rift between Russia and the West; the conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa; and tensions within European. “We are holding these talks at a time when many truths once regarded as self-evident are being questioned.”

“I hope that, together, we can raise questions and seek and find shared answers to them,” Niinistö said while bidding his Swedish guests welcome.

“We are holding these talks at a time when many truths once regarded as self-evident are being questioned,” President Niinistö said.

The Swedish Prime Minister Löfven referred in his speech to the recent visit to Washington by Nordic national leaders. At the beginning of the visit, President of the United States Barack Obama pointed out that the Nordic countries were bigger international players than their size would suggest. Löfven believes that they should continue to seek an extensive and visible international influence. “There is high international demand for the Nordic social model and values,” he stated.

Löfven also pointed out that the change in the security situation in the Baltic region will affect future decisions made by both Finland and Sweden. He emphasised the opportunities for Finland and Sweden to work together towards reducing tensions in the region.

“The Baltic Sea should be a tension-free region of partnerships. Militarily strong states do not have the right to violate the sovereignty of other countries or direct their security policy decisions.”

Löfven stressed the basic pillars of Sweden’s foreign and security policy: non-alignment and cooperation. “Finland has a special role in Sweden’s international cooperation policy,” he said. He also mentioned that discussion of the security of the Baltic region forms a key part of Sweden’s and Finland’s Nato partnership.

Sources: MTV, The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Cover picture: Picture: Matti Porre/The Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

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