Pictures: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
Planes make noise when they land. But when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, lands there’s no visible contact nor sound until the plane sweeps the roofs of the Turku Airport, ready to roll the runway late on sunny Friday afternoon.
“Where did that come from?” the cameramen uttered loudly when the plane rolled beyond eyesight.
Soon Putin’s plane strolled in front of us and my shutter clicked in the rhythm of Putin’s shining shoes as he descended the stairs of the plane. He looked cheerful in his trademark dark suit.
He was at least 45 minutes late from his scheduled arrival and nobody knew where he was coming from. Perhaps this was a tactical move . . . he is, after all, the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world.
Putin waved from the backseat of his Mercedes, as he passed us within a few meters’ distance. “He actually waved! And I got it on video,” my assistant cheered.
Indeed, Putin’s visits in Finland are not an everyday treat. His last visit was three years ago, and the hullabaloo shut down half of the Turku city.
On Friday, Putin was in Finland for a working visit at the invitation of his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö. The military, the police of south-western Finland, the border patrol . . . they were all involved full-time when the Russian president was escorted a distance of about 20 kilometers to Kultaranta, the official summer residence of President Niinistö.
After the talks, both presidents ambled down the hill of the impressive granite manor house in front of the press waiting in a tent. They looked relaxed and their communication was open even during the questions. President Niinistö made clear that any decisions Finland has made against Russia have been Finland’s own, including the sanctions because of the crisis in Ukraine and the cooperation with NATO. ”
Our relations are based on a stable friendship and good neighbor relations,” said President Putin. Putin highlighted the fact that Russia has withdrawn all troops from the borderline of Finland and Russia “within a distance of 1,500 kilometers” as a signal of trust. However, it would be a different matter if Finland would decide to join NATO. According to Putin, the number of the North Atlantic Alliance troops is increasing near Russia’s borders. If Finland would join NATO it would become just another part of the alliance, a non-independent actor. “Let’s imagine that Finland would join NATO. What do you think? Would we still keep our troops within a distance of 1,500 kilometers from the Finnish borders?” Putin said.
He decided to illustrate the point further by quoting a Finnish friend of his. “Likely NATO would fight against Russia until the last Finnish soldier. Do you need something like that? Russia wouldn’t want that. But that is not our decision but yours.” “We respect Finland’s choice, whatever it is,” Putin said and soon the presidents shook hands and Putin smiled.