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President Sauli Niinistö met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Kultaranta, Naantali, on July 1, 2016. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Finland has joined the 25 nations—including the majority of the EU countries and the US—that believe that Russia is the culprit in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, 66, a former double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, in Salisbury, England, on March 4.

In response to the claims, Finland decided to expel a Russian diplomat who works in the Russian Embassy in Helsinki—adding one more the long list of a total of 140 expelled Russians around the world. The diplomat in question was notified of the decision on Monday, but his name is not revealed to the public. The expelled has 14 days to leave the country.

On the very same evening, President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä joined forces to stand tall in front of the crossfire of media while explaining the reasoning behind the decision. According to President Niinistö, the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy decided to oust the diplomat after careful consideration.

President Niinistö had gathered intelligence during the week. On Sunday, Niinistö spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the matter on the phone. Last Thursday, Niinistö had spoken with the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Niinistö said on Monday that it would have been preferable from the Finnish—and also Swedish—perspective to find a solution acceptable to all EU member states. “But since no such approach could be found and, as far as I can understand, this decision has in any case been joined in by the clear majority of the EU Member States, this was the line adopted,” Niinistö said.

Protesters at the Russian Embassy at Tehtaankatu in Helsinki in 2013. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

On March, 4 Skripal, the former Soviet and Russian spy, was found unconscious on a bench next to his daughter in Salisbury. UK investigators believe a Russian military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, was used. The pair is hospitalized and remain in critical condition.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May pointed out Russia as the main suspect in her speech at the House of Commons (the lower house of the British parliament). “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” May said.

Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning. They also deny the very existence of Novichock, but according to them, chemical nerve agents were sent all around the former Soviet republics, which could have stockpiled it.

Niinistö and Putin. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Another potential source, according to the former FSB chief, Nikolay Kovalyov, could be the research laboratory in the UK, the one which May was referring to, which is a military research base specialized in chemical weapons—located only a few kilometers away from the crime scene. “Check if anything leaked from there,” Kovalyov said.

According to a Russian chemical weapons scientist Dr Anton Utkin, who is a former UN inspector in Iraq, no one can with certainty point to a country and claim that a chemical weapon was built there. “If you know the technology, it is not possible to find out who made a chemical weapon—if the method is the same, the formulas of the substances will be identical,” he said.

President Niinistö said on Monday that during his talks with President Putin, Putin denied Russia’s involvement in the poisoning attack.
In public Putin has said this: “The first thing that entered my head was that if it had been a military-grade nerve agent, the people would have died on the spot. Secondly, Russia does not have such [nerve] agents. We destroyed all our chemical weapons under the supervision of international organizations and we did it first, unlike some of our partners who promised to do it, but unfortunately did not keep their promises.”

Putin added that the Moscow was ready to cooperate with London. Russia has, for example, asked for samples of the nerve agent. So far, the British have not delivered any. “I think any sensible person would understand that it would be rubbish, drivel, nonsense, for Russia to embark on such an escapade on the eve of a presidential election,” Putin said after he had been re-elected the president on March 18.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that there would be a response to the mass expulsion. Russia’s foreign ministry is said to be drawing up a number of possible retaliatory measures for President Putin to consider.

While the world is waiting for further evidence and pointing fingers at our Eastern neighbor, Finland has chosen its team. In the history of Finland, diplomats have been deported because of bad behavior and usually, they have not become news items and public discussions.

This case is different. Finland has once again stated that it’s part of the West and loyal to the European Union.