Russia’s Sergei Lavrov meets Niinistö, Haavisto for talks in Helsinki

The developing situation in Idlib, northern Syria, was top of the agenda for both meetings as Russia plays a crucial role in the region.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meets Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at Mäntyniemi, Helsinki 3rd March 2020 / Credit: Matti Porre, VNK

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Helsinki on Tuesday for his first visit in three years.

In the morning he met with President Sauli Niinistö at his official resident Mäntyniemi, with the deteriorating military and humanitarian situation in northern Syria along the border with Turkey leading the agenda.

More than 30 Turkish troops were killed in an air strike last week, as Turkish authorities tried to carve out a safe haven for millions of refugees. Russia has denied any involvement in the incident but the intensified fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis that set nearly a million people on the move.

In a statement, Niinistö’s office said he “underlined that an immediate end to the suffering of the civilians is indispensible.”

The two politicians also discussed stability in the Baltic Sea region, Russia’s initiative for a summit involving the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, arms control and “other international issues”.

Meeting of foreign ministers 

On Tuesday afternoon Lavrov held his first Helsinki meeting with Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green).

Again, the situation in Syria – and the knock-on effect it has for Turkey opening its northern borders to let migrants move into the EU – was the headline item.

At a press conference at the House of the Estates, Lavrov said that Russia had no plans to stop its military activities in Syria and would continue fighting terrorists.

“From our point of view, what is happening now in Idlib, where Syrian troops backed by Russia, are confronting Turkish troops, and where about one million refugees are being squeezed by the fighting, is a completely inhumane situation” said Haavisto.

Finland is appealing for a ceasefire in Idlib to allow humanitarian aid to reach those people who most need it.