Hold onto your horses, Putin is coming!

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Photo: A woman at the Russian Orthodox Pokrovskaia Association in Helsinki, Finland.

Stop the traffic. Stop the music. Stop whatever you are doing. Putin is coming to town!

The big man of Russia will be in Finland on August 21 to meet with President Sauli Niinistö.

The two have a tight relationship, and Putin visits Finland annually. 

Niinistö last met with Putin in April at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin expressed that relations between Russia and Finland are developing in a good direction. Thanks for the love, Vlad!

The meeting next week takes place at the Finnish president’s summer residence in Naantali and comes at a time when relations between Russia and the West are, frankly, in a dreadful state. Niinistö has sought to reassure the Finnish media by saying that no conversations topic will be taboo. However, he refused to disclose the talking points.

We expect Niinistö to continue acting as a bridge between Moscow and Western countries and to carefully tend to what is an uneasy, but important partnership. Many Finnish companies want the sanctions currently imposed on Moscow to be lifted and for Russia to return to buying a wider assortment of products from Finland . Don’t forget, Russia remains an important market and is located right on Finland’s eastern border. Even notoriously quiet Finns talk to their neighbours.

An abusive relationship?

A digression to dig a little deeper into Russian-Finnish relations…

Innocent and inexperienced small town girl meets mysterious, unattainable bad boy. It is an old story that rarely has a happy ending.

Falling in love with such a character can bring your exhilarating excitement. Yet one day you wake up and realise that you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic lunatic and there are very few ways out.

Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit (just a bit) by seeming to compare such a dynamic to the Russia-Finland relationship. Yet, like that unattainable new love interest, Russia remains a mystery to Finland, and just about everyone else.

That doesn’t stop Finns from pursuing it of course….there are all those people, all that land, so many resources…

 Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev famous poem says it all: 

”You cannot grasp Russia with your mind 

Or judge her by any common measure, 

Russia is one of a special kind –

You can only believe in her. ”

Another Cold War?

Yes, Russia is Finland’s main longterm external security threat.

In March, the Finnish Defence Ministry released a critical report of Russia entitled “Voiman Venäjä” (eng. Russia of Power). The report was a continuation of two previous reports “Haasteiden Venäjä” (Russia of Challenges, 2008) and Muutosten Venäjä (Russia of Changes, 2012).

“Voiman Venäjä” paints a grim picture of Russia-Finland relations and even mentions being on the edge of another Cold War. An unstable Russia could have a huge impact on Finland’s security. Meanwhile, the increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea makes Finland nervous. Russia sees Finland as part of its larger geopolitical goals, according to the report. For example, the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church (not to be confused to Finnish Orthodox Church that is part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) is controversial in Finland as it is seen as part of Moscow’s soft power strategy.

Helsinki views Russia as unpredictable and wishes to convey itself as a reliable partner, one who can talk it out, no matter the issues, without physical altercation, according to the report.  

For its part, Russia has criticised Finland’s closer defence co-operation with Sweden and the fact that Finland has taken part in NATO exercises. 

Friends, until we’re not

Hostility is unlikely to be seen during the meeting between Niinistö and Putin next week.

In official meetings Russia has always highlighted its good relations with Finland. This is despite occasional not so subtle hints about the horrible consequences should Finland do something disagreeable (such as making plans to join NATO).

In other news, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif will also meet with Niinistö next week, on August 19.

So it will be a busy week for Finnish foreign policy. 

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