President Niinistö starts Ukraine visit with Russia on the agenda

Niinistö will speak at the historic Black Sea resort of Yalta where he will be attending the same event as Estonia's President.

File Picture: Official Visit to the United States on 12-15 May 2016 / Credit: Lehtikuva / Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö starts a two-day official visit to Ukraine today.

The main set-piece event will be a meeting on Thursday afternoon with his opposite number Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev, the first time the two presidents have met.

On the agenda they’re discussing bilateral relations but also the situation with Russia and in east Ukraine. Expectations of easing tensions between Russia and Ukraine have grown in recent weeks following an exchange of prisoners between the two countries last weekend.

President Zelensky was elected in the spring, and before becoming a politician was more famous as an actor and comedian on TV, starring in a show where he played the role of the President.

Zelensky defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko for the job. On Friday, Niinistö speaks at the Yalta European Strategy conference alongside Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Russia diplomacy 

President Putin visited Helsinki at the end of August for bilateral talks with Niinistö, and relations with Ukraine were surely on the agenda although in public the pair didn’t have much to say.

“One gets the sense they chose to discuss the most pressing global issues after the press conference was done and they didn’t have to meet the media any more” Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs FIIA explained at the time.

“At least Niinistö seemed to indicate there was some worthwhile serious discussions that would be taking place, and everyone speculated it would be about Ukraine” he said.

And in a recent interview with News Now Finland, Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) said that with the situation especially in eas Ukraine at a standstill, there could be room for a third party like Finland to offer a listening ear.

“I think there is at least a role for somebody who listens to all parties and maybe can analyse if there is a path ahead. And I think this role President Niinistö has been playing a very skillful [role]” explains Haavisto.

“The movement at least is very slow there, apart from some minor steps in Eastern Ukraine. But we know that President Zelensky has been taking direct contact with President Putin, and of course we hope that could create a new momentum and situation. These kind of issues, the security of European states, is an existential issue for Finland” Haavisto said.