Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has dismissed criticism from an unnamed Estonian government official and Finnish political pundits who questioned his decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week. The critics called on Niinistö to cancel the meeting with Putin to protest the increase in Russian military aggression in Eastern Europe, but the Finnish president Sunday downplayed their comments as a minority opinion on the issue.
Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat said that Niinistö, who addressed the media during Finland’s Kultaranta security summit, was “indignant” when confronted with the criticism, according to Russian outlet Sputnik News. “Who has criticized me … apart from exactly one Estonian minister?” Niinistö said. He referred to the Finnish political pundits as “a couple of so-called experts” whose disapproval did not indicate “the world was aghast” at the notion of the Russian meeting.
Increasing tension between Russia and the NATO military alliance resulted in “the buildup of arms right on our doorstep,” Niinistö said, according to Finnish newspaper Aamulehti, though he dismissed the notion that Finland could face military hostility. Finland shares a border hundreds of miles long with Russia. The U.S. Department of Defense proposed a plan to post heavy weaponry and thousands of American soldiers in NATO territory in Eastern Europe to serve as a check against Russian aggression, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
The Finnish president will meet with Putin in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss several issues, including Finland’s concerns over Russia’s military activity, trade and cultural issues. Finland has strong economic ties to Russia, but the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and purported involvement in the eastern Ukraine crisis has led some Finnish officials to call for increased cooperation with NATO, or even membership in the alliance, to ensure the country’s future security.
Niinistö described Finland as an “advanced partner” of NATO last November, but the nation’s government has yet to express definitive interest in entering the military alliance. “It is very obvious that if Finland joins NATO, that would undoubtedly harm our relations [with Russia],” he told the Washington Post.