Don’t be confused: Finland is not a neutral country despite the Trump-Putin meeting

, by Markus Nieminen

Don't be confused: Finland is not a neutral country despite the Trump-Putin meeting
Russian President Vladimir Putin and American President Donald Trump meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in 2017. Photograph: President of Russia (

Normally, the biggest stars to visit Finland during the short but bright summer are Metallica or Rammstein. This year the title goes to different kind of showmen, as it was recently confirmed that US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Helsinki on the 16th of July.

Helsinki is not exactly a newcomer as a venue for US-Russia diplomacy. Just last month the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford and his counterpart Valery Gerasimov met in the city, and smaller similar meetings have been held as well. The previous presidential encounter happened in 1997, when Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton held a two-day summit.

However, deciding to meet in Helsinki at a time when the tension between the east and the west is higher than in decades gives off a false impression that Finland is a neutral country (as the US version of Politico wrote last week).

One might wonder where this interpretation comes from. After all, Finland is an EU member state that has set sanctions against Russia after the invasion of Crimea, and expelled a Russian diplomat after the Skripal attack. Finland (along with Sweden) has also been invited to the NATO summit to be held in July (the primary reason why Trump travels to Europe in the first place).

In short, Finland is tightly committed to Western norms and politics. However, ever since the Cold War Finland has been keen to have good relationship with the ruling Russian regime. Going after Russia’s actions or even openly debating about them has been extremely difficult for generations of Finnish politicians. This political funambulism – which is not unfamiliar in other Eastern countries either - should, however, not blur the careful but determined steps that Finland has taken towards West in the past 30 years.

If Finland is seen as a neutral ground, it makes the EU and the entire Western community look smaller and weaker. This is a victory for no-one else than Putin, whose willingness to interfere with European cooperation has not diminished (see, for instance, what’s happening with the Italian government).

In other words, Putin might have chalked up his first victory from the meeting already, but only if the narrative of Finland’s neutrality is believed. People in the rest of Europe might not think about Finland too often, but when they do, I find it important that they remember that the small country in the north is committed to the European community.

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