Despite worsening relations between Moscow and the West, Russia's interests cannot be ignored, Finnish President Sauli Niinist has said, explaining how his nation has built relations with its much larger neighbor.
"With the Russians, the most important thing is not to undermine relations and not to ignore them," the Finnish leader explained in an interview published by The Sunday Times over the weekend.
He gave the example of the former mayor of the Finnish city of Turku, who, he said, met with Vladimir Putin several times in the early 1990s (before Putin became President of Russia). According to Niinistö, Putin was so charmed by the respect shown to him by the mayor, he continues to invite him on trips to Moscow.
Still, the president added, "One must be firm in one's position."
Explaining the potential for military tensions on Russia's vast border, Niinistö said, "Of course, they say they want to guarantee the safety of Murmansk Oblast, that they're building up and fortifying their defenses. But as we all know, the sea is endless in scale. Where does the defense start and how far does it extend?"
In September, Niinistö called on the governments of Europe to rethink their foreign policy and engage in closer dialogue with Russia. "Instead of attempts at cooperation, we have growing distrust and mutual accusations," he said. "Our relations with Russia are founded on active, direct dialogue."
In 2018, Finland hosted a summit for discussions between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, the president of the United States at the time. Last week, Finland announced that it was prepared to host a meeting soon between Putin and current American incumbent Joe Biden. The two leaders are set to have a video call Tuesday, during which they will discuss the status of Ukraine, among other issues.
During the Cold War, Finland was known for its practice of abiding by the Soviet Union's foreign policy rules while maintaining its national sovereignty and separate political system. This was sometimes referred to pejoratively as "Finlandization."