President Sauli Niinistö took questions from the media in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on Thursday, 10 March 2022. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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PRESIDENT Sauli Niinistö will have a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Niinistö on Thursday highlighted that European heads of state, particularly French President Emmanuel Macron, have drawn attention to the importance of maintaining dialogue with Russia despite the war in Ukraine.

“President Emmanuel Macron and [German] Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz have done so. I’ve heard from both of them that it’s practically a duty to be in contact with Putin if the lines of communication are intact,” he stated at a press conference in the Presidential Palace, refusing to shed light on the message he intends to deliver to Putin.

“I wasn’t planning on telling you that in advance. The call would become pretty unnecessary.”

It is crucial to prevent the war from spreading to other parts of Europe, according to Niinistö. “I’ve used a steelyard balance metaphor here: One of the weights is cold-hearted killing and the need to put a stop to it. The other weight is this threat of escalation.”

Macron and Scholz demanded an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine during a call with Putin on Thursday, according to Reuters. The heads of state also underlined that a resolution to the war must be found through negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought about a shift in Finnish foreign and security policy, Niinistö began the press conference by reiterating that Finland is not under any immediate threat.

“We have safe options also for the future. They must be reviewed thoroughly – not to procrastinate but to be thorough,” he said. “We have safe options, but they also entail risks. And those risks must be reviewed thoroughly.”

“Once this analysis of options and risks has been done in the Parliament, it’ll be time for conclusions.”

He declined to comment on the remarks made recently about Nato by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen (Centre).

Andersson on Tuesday rejected calls from the opposition to consider joining the defence alliance on grounds that applying now could further destabilise the situation in parts of Europe. Kaikkonen on Wednesday similarly viewed that “right now” is not the right time to apply, reminding that the political debate is still ongoing and parties are weighing up their stance on the issue.

“Right now is probably not the right time to send the membership application,” Kaikkonen said during a working visit to the US according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Niinistö on Thursday stated that it is significant that party leaders are currently willing to look into the issue for themselves and the Parliament. He also reiterated his belief that public opinion should be taken into account in the process – for example, by means of an advisory referendum or a large-scale survey involving the public sector.

“I’ve previously stated that public opinion should be established legitimately, so that also the losing side has to acknowledge that the outcome is just,” he told.

He dismissed the concern that an advisory referendum would be particularly susceptible to hybrid influencing, arguing that such attempts would be just as likely during the “inevitably lengthy” parliamentary debate that would be had in the event that a decision to submit the membership application was made.

“I’m sure it’d be easy to carry out influence campaigns and target them specifically at certain groups,” he said.

Niinistö opted not to disclose his own view on the membership but said he tries to approach the issue analytically, taking into account the advantages and disadvantages of all options. The Parliament, he added, should adopt the same approach.

“If I started declaring my views, it could disrupt the analytical, even objective approach of others,” he explained.

The press conference was held after the president had discussed the policy ramifications of the prevalent security situation with party leaders, chairpersons of parliamentary committees and Speakers of the Parliament.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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