HELSINKI – Finland’s president, a smooth operator

The response to the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the current political crisis in Belarus have shown that the behind-the-scenes role and regional influence of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö may be bigger than expected.

The president’s activity has been striking, especially in comparison with the cautious foreign policy the country has often pursued.

After Navalny was hospitalised in Siberia, the Finnish president first spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Then, during a long phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was said that Niinistö was the one to secure Navalny’s transfer to Berlin’s Charité hospital. The Russian opposition leader later thanked the Finnish president for his role in the operation.

After the German government released a statement on Wednesday (2 September) confirming Navalny had been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, Niinistö condemned the use of a chemical weapon and called for a full explanation. According to former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, he was the first EU leader to issue such a statement.

The president also got involved in the Belarus crisis.

Together with the Lithuanian President Gitans Nauseda, he emphasised the role of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) as a mediator between the opposition and President Lukashenko’s regime.

(Pekka Vänttinen |

Subscribe to our newsletters