The president of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, is the individual thought of most accountable for bringing his nation into the NATO alliance — and Sweden, too, which is awaiting ratification — following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Biden has consulted him about Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Niinisto has met quite a few instances.
In a protracted interview in his light-filled modernist residence in Helsinki, Mr. Niinisto warned European leaders and residents to not turn into complacent over the dangers of escalation in Russia’s warfare in opposition to Ukraine.
The warfare in Ukraine will final a very long time, he mentioned, and wars can take surprising paths, even towards the usage of nuclear weapons.
The invasion, Mr. Niinisto mentioned, was “a wake-up name” for Europe and NATO.
“Nicely, it was ringing loudly in February 2022,” he mentioned. “However do you hear it anymore? That clearly? That is likely to be an excellent query — whether or not all Europeans understand that this can be a European problem.”
Mr. Niinisto, 75, is nearing the top of his 12 years because the Finnish president. Within the interview, he was philosophical, however troubled, too. Finland has a lot expertise — and an 830-mile border — with its imperialist neighbor, Russia.
Recalling Finland’s quite a few wars with Moscow, together with the 1939 Winter Conflict and World Conflict II, when the Finns fought off the Soviets however needed to cede some territory, Mr. Niinisto mentioned European international locations that allow down their defenses after the collapse of the Soviet Union made a grave mistake.
Listed below are a couple of highlights from the interview:
Talking about particles from what seemed to be a Russian drone touchdown lately in Romania, which is a member of NATO, Mr. Niinisto cautioned: “We’re in a really delicate state of affairs. Even small issues can change issues a terrific deal and sadly for the more serious. That’s the danger of such large-scale warfare.” He added, “The chance that nuclear weapons may very well be used is super.”
His warnings, he mentioned, had been partly a response to those that criticize the insurance policies of Mr. Biden and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany as too cautious in supplying Ukraine with subtle, long-range missiles and drones that might simply hit Russian-occupied Crimea and Russia.
“There’s a distinction between those that have duty and those that don’t,” he mentioned. “Additionally, in Finland, we hear voices that America ought to try this or that. And I simply wished to level out that if there’s escalation to a giant warfare, that’s world warfare, so then the nuclear danger turns into clearly larger.” He urged everybody “to know the place of those that have duty.”
He urged Europeans to heed Finland’s instance.
In contrast to Sweden, a detailed neighbor in all fields, together with protection, Finland nonetheless has conscription for males, and in addition permits ladies to enlist. Those that end conscription stay within the reserves, as they do in Israel, for many years, and participate in army coaching and workouts no less than twice a 12 months — now extra usually — along side different public companies, such because the police and the fireplace brigades.
And Finland, schooled in self-reliance, additionally maintains its giant artillery forces, nonetheless makes its personal shells and ammunition, and even purchased superior F-35 fighter jets earlier than the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
After the Chilly Conflict, Mr. Niinisto mentioned, “we Europeans discovered to reside an all the time bettering life.”
“Decade after decade,” he mentioned, “it strengthened the sensation that it’s a bit old school even to speak about protection forces or defending as a result of that’s not potential in a contemporary world. Now there’s an enormous wake-up. Thankfully, in Finland, our place remained completely totally different.”
Of their conferences earlier than the invasion in February 2022, Mr. Niinisto mentioned, Mr. Putin was centered, aggressive and nicely knowledgeable, even obsessive, about Russian tradition. He mentioned he determined to check Mr. Putin by asking him about Mikhail Lermontov’s poem on the dying of Pushkin, Russia’s best poet. Mr. Putin spoke for greater than half an hour. “He knew every part about that — for him it’s Russia, Russia general,” Mr. Niinisto mentioned.
Russia dominated Finland for greater than a century, till, within the chaos of Lenin’s takeover, Finland declared independence in 1917. The wars with Russia since then are seared “in our spine,” Mr. Niinisto mentioned. Russian historical past goes in waves, he mentioned, citing “a centuries-old Finnish saying that ‘the Cossack takes something that’s unfastened,’” that’s not tied down. (Finns used to make use of “Cossack” as shorthand for “Russians,” he mentioned.) However it’s a reminder that free international locations should hold their defenses up and their items safely saved.
The 2 presidents spoke about Russian intentions in Ukraine earlier than Mr. Niinisto met Mr. Putin in Moscow in October 2021, persevering with their conversations on the Glasgow local weather summit the following month and afterward, as Russian troops had been increase on the border with Ukraine. They spoke once more in January, and Mr. Biden requested Mr. Niinisto to induce Mr. Putin to not invade. Russia invaded the following month.
After the invasion, Mr. Niinisto was among the many first European leaders to satisfy Mr. Biden within the White Home, on March 4, the place he put forth the potential for Finland becoming a member of NATO. After the Russian invasion, he mentioned, “it grew to become very apparent that we had no different different than giving up our army nonalignment.”
Mr. Biden was supportive from the beginning, Mr. Niinisto mentioned.
Mr. Niinisto mentioned he doesn’t know the way lengthy the warfare will final, or the way it will finish, or “what life can be like after we once more have peace.”
However even when the battle ends, Russia will stay. “There’s additionally a giant European curiosity to guarantee that Russia shouldn’t be returning again to warfare after peace in Ukraine” with out insisting that the Russians “should be blown out,” he mentioned rigorously. However he emphasised that belief could be wanted to make sure that “a brand new warfare shouldn’t be ready behind the door.”
There may be all the time life after warfare, he mentioned, and there may be nothing extra useful for individuals than peace.
“With out peace, you don’t have anything, so I’m positive that odd Russians share these emotions,” Mr. Niinisto mentioned. “It’s a primary human feeling.”
There should be a option to preserve a relationship with Russia, he mentioned. “I don’t imply any nice friendship,” Mr. Niinisto mentioned, “however the functionality to tolerate, even perceive one another a bit.”