Despite criticism from neighboring countries, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini of the Finns Party specified once again in a recent Q&A session with international correspondents in Helsinki that Russia and the Baltic region are the main priorities during his tenure.
"I'm well aware of the fact there are different opinions on how to deal with Russia. And I'm not trying to teach anyone, especially not our friends the Swedes in this regard. However, Russia is our neighbor and our way is to maintain discussion and dialogue with the Russians and be outspoken about our position, including critical views," Timo Soini said, as quoted by Swedish Radio.
"Then again we get a lot of questions from our European colleagues who have no dialogue with Russia. They always want to know what we are talking about. If the desire to learn what the Russians are thinking is present, I suggest you should speak to them directly," Timo Soini noted.
In the course of the last year, Finland's position has become unique in the EU. Like its fellow EU countries, Helsinki dutifully followed Brussels' directive and joined anti-Russian sanctions. However, it also retained active contacts with Russia on both the ministerial and presidential level. Last summer, President Sauli Niinistö was severely criticized by Swedish politicians for his decision to invite Vladimir Putin to his residence. Furthermore, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini has met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov four times during the past year.
Whereas Finland's time-tested policy of maintaining warm and trusting relations with the then Soviet Union, was by NATO spokesmen often referred to as "Finlandization," a rather negatively-laden term, the proximity to the vast eastern neighbor has historically offered Finland a number of economic possibilities in trade, tourism and business.