Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov greets his Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto (the Green League), at the steps of the House of the Estates in Helsinki on March 3, 2020. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (the Green League) and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, met for their first official talks today at the House of the Estates in Helsinki. The press conference, which was moved to an earlier time began about 10 minutes late.

Foreign Minister Haavisto listed briefly some of the topics that they discussed: internal matters; the importance of Russia as a partner in trade; favorable experiences regarding the Russian e-visa (a single-entry visa which one should apply using the electronic service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation); environmental cooperation; and human rights.

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

For example, Minister Haavisto raised a discussion on the situation of Jehova’s Witnesses in Russia. Currently, Russian authorities have added over 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses to a register of extremists and terrorists. “An organization that operates in Russia has to follow the Russian law,” Lavrov said at the press conference. “The organization that represents the Jehovah’s Witnesses has provoked its members to break the law. That’s something we cannot accept.”

The ministers had a discussion on Syria and the refugee crisis at the borders between Greece and Turkey.

According to BBC News, Syrian government forces, supported by Russia, have been trying to retake Idlib (a province in north-western Syria that is considered the last stronghold of rebels and extremists) from jihadist groups and Turkish-backed rebel factions.

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

“We understand how serious the refugee and immigration problems are to the European Union,” Lavrov said. “We are continuing bilateral talks with the European Union about the subject but we cannot stop the fight against terrorism to solve the refugee problem, even though we are continuously suggested to do so.”

The ministers also discussed NATO and Lavrov reminded the listeners of Russia’s appreciation to “that Finland is not part of a military union.” “It strengthens security in the European area.”

Serious talks with President Niinistö

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov met with President Sauli Niinistö at the president’s official residence, Mäntyniemi.

The president’s office described the talks as “a serious conversation on the situation in Syria and Idlib and the humanitarian distress it causes.”

President Niinistö underlined that an immediate end to the suffering of the civilians is indispensable and referred to the meeting of presidents Putin and Erdogan on Thursday.

President Niinistö and Foreign Minister Lavrov also discussed the stability of the Baltic Sea region, the Russian initiative for a P5 summit, arms control and other international questions.