Prime Minister Sanna Marin and President Sauli Niinistö on Thursday, 24 February 2022, addressed the media in the wake of reports that Russia has launched a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)

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PRESIDENT Sauli Niinistö on Thursday said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a shock even though warnings had been sounded about the possibility of war.

“Finland strongly condemns Russia’s actions and warfare. And it demands that warlike measures be discontinued swiftly,” he stated in a rare joint press conference of the foreign and security policy leadership of Finland.

“Our deep feelings are with the people of Ukraine – in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Odessa and elsewhere, innocent people are having to endure the horrors of war,” stated Niinistö.

The situation, he gauged, will continue for a while and assume an ever grimmer tone. “This is reflected also in the foreign and security policy of Finland. That much is clear,” he admitted. “When it comes to our relationship with Russia, this does move it to another level.”

“The masks have now been taken off, showing only the face of war,” he replied when asked to shed light on his thoughts about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Niinistö and Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen (Centre) reiterated that Finland is not under any military threat, the latter reminding that the military situation remains calm in the vicinity of Finland. The wider security situation, however, is likely to remain strained, volatile and difficult to predict for some time, estimated Kaikkonen.

“The Finnish Defence Forces has good readiness to fulfil the responsibilities belonging to it. Finns can have confidence in our defence forces,” he affirmed.

Niinistö said Finland is not considering joining Nato in the wake of the invasion. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Greens) assured that Finnish security policy has been designed to withstand times of crisis.

“We’ll draw conclusions after the crisis about what measures are needed,” said Haavisto.

Finland has announced it stands by Ukraine. It has already sent financial aid to the country both directly and through the European Union.

The Finnish Defence Forces, meanwhile, has started investigating what weapons or other defence materiel it could hand over without undermining its own defence capabilities. Kaikkonen said Finland is “positive” about requests from other countries to provide Ukraine weapons and other supplies acquired from Finland.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) stated that Finland will respond to the invasion with sanctions together with other members of the European Union. The bloc, she assured, is prepared to recourse to firm sanctions.

“You can’t put a price on peace, stability and human lives,” she emphasised, adding that a reaction to the sanctions is inevitable. “That’s the cost of this situation. The EU didn’t want this situation. This is due to Russia’s actions.”

Leaders of the 27-country bloc announced after a summit yesterday evening they have agreed to impose new economic sanctions on Russia, joining the likes of the UK and US.

The EU will freeze Russian assets in its territory and block Russian banks from accessing its financial markets, according to Reuters. The sanctions will also include export controls designed to stifle trade, manufacturing and the functioning of the energy and transport sectors in Russia, but not cutting off Russia from Swift, a system serving as an intermediary and executor of transnational financial transactions.

Josep Borrell, the head of foreign affairs and security policy at the EU, described the sanctions as the “harshest” ever implemented by the bloc.

“Hopefully we will make big strides tomorrow on how these sanctions will look specifically,” said Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra. “For the Netherlands, Swift is part of the discussion.”

The EU will reconvene today to iron out the details of its second sanctions package.

Niinistö on Thursday estimated that it is unlikely that the west responds to the invasion with military force. “A balance of terror, sustained by nuclear weapons, is in effect here,” he said. “A counterbalance to that is that the same aspect is recognised in Russia. Meaning it’ll be a line that won’t be easily crossed, because after that there are no winners.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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