August 2014 – FINLAND – Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe will meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin today in an effort to defuse tensions he said risk dragging the world into a new cold war. The two will meet in the southern Russian town of Sochi following an invitation from Putin first made a year ago, Niinistoe told reporters in Helsinki yesterday. The encounter will mark Putin’s first bilateral talks with a European leader or head of state since he met with German ChancellorAngela Merkel in Brazil during the World Cup in July. “I have a feeling that we’re on the brink of cold war,” Niinistoe said. He plans to use the meeting with Putin to find a way “to bring this terrible spiral of mistrust to an end,” he said. Finland, which unlike its Baltic neighbors never joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has a longer border with Russia than the other 27 European Union members combined. Its economy is more exposed to the fallout of Russian tensions than that of any other euro member, trade figures show. Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has hinted at the need for economic compensation should Finland be hit disproportionately. “Finland particularly has an incentive to be active here, to promote security and stability,” Niinistoe said. The Finnish head of state, whose powers are largely ceremonial, said he’s also looking into visiting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Niinistoe “has been in contact” with “western partners” to discuss the meeting with Putin, he said.
Since Russia annexed Crimea in March, relations between Putin and his counterparts in Europe and the U.S. have steadily deteriorated. Ukraine is now trying to dislodge pro-Russian rebels from strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk in the country’s east. The death toll doubled in the past two weeks to more than 2,000, Agence France-Presse reported Aug. 13, citing United Nations data. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday he’s concerned that Putin has ambitions that go “beyond Ukraine.” “The Russian ambition is to establish a sphere of Russian influence in the near neighborhood,” he told reporters in Reykjavik. Ukraine began to send its own aid supplies to the country’s war-torn east yesterday as a Russian convoy with emergency supplies was reported to be nearing the border. Ukraine’s government said this week it would allow the humanitarian aid carried by hundreds of trucks from Russia through the frontier if officials can inspect it and the Red Cross distributes it. Stubb told reporters at parliament in Helsinki yesterday that aid trucks sent by Russia to eastern Ukraine should only proceed if Ukraine “wants the aid and accepts it.” –Bloomberg