President Niinistö: Joint assistance should be given to Belarus, if necessary

President Niinistö, interviewed by journalist Seija Vaaherkumpu on Yle Ykkösaamu. Photo: Jouni Mölsä/Office of the President of the Republic

The situation in Belarus and the case of Alexei Navalny, coronavirus, the powers of the President and transatlantic relations. President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö commented on these topics, among others, in Yle Ykkösaamu interview on Saturday 22 August.

The situation in Belarus and the case of Alexei Navalny have been discussed in recent days both in Finland and abroad. The previous day, President Niinistö had discussed the issues by telephone with President of Russia Vladimir Putin and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others.

President Niinistö told Yle journalist Seija Vaaherkumpu that not much is known about Navalny’s illness at the present time. He said he had agreed in a telephone call with Chancellor Merkel to raise the issue of arranging Navalny’s health care with President Putin. “And President Putin made it clear to me that he did not see any political or other obstacles, but health, to a transfer.”

Navalny has today been transferred to Germany for treatment and the President said he believed that the Germans would make every effort to ascertain how the situation originated. “Perhaps we’ll hear more about this soon,” he said.

Democratic development in Belarus

In addition to the Navalny case, yesterday’s telephone calls had also focused on the situation in Belarus and how to move forward from the present state of affairs. “Both, in my opinion, had a clear view that we now need to build dialogue,” said President Niinistö.

According to the President, it is important to establish contacts between Lukashenko and the opposition and, if necessary, to enable external assistance to be provided as much as possible. The President considered that Russia and EU could jointly provide assistance in bringing the parties to the same table. Practical steps could be taken via the OSCE. According to President Niinistö, the key issue is how internal discussions in Belarus will start and whether an effort to promote democracy will emerge. “External assistance with discussions and negotiations might also be required,” he noted.

In the interview, President Niinistö also reminded that the current situation is precisely about internal order and lack of democracy in Belarus. The Belarusians themselves have not adopted an East-West perspective as their dividing line. The President stated that this should therefore not be actively offered from the outside: “So that no geopolitical divisions arise. Everyone certainly wants to avoid them.”

”Yes, I can cope”

When asked about the coronavirus situation, President Niinistö said that he understood people’s fatigue and forgetfulness with respect to restrictions. “To quote a little, was it Waltari who said? Experience repeats itself, feeling fades. So you no longer respond as seriously and cautiously.”

While the situation still demands much from everyone, the President considers that people are very resilient. Now we also have the gained experiences from the spring. The President urged everyone to think a little about their own capacity to manage, and to conclude that  “yes, I can cope.”

The President does all he can for the best of the people of Finland

Debate over the powers of the President of the Republic of Finland was heated during the spring and summer. The Ykkösaamu interview returned to the events of the summer when President Niinistö stated that attempts were being made to silence him.

“My reaction related to when a political scientist said that it would be best for the President not to interfere in anything other than foreign policy and that, in this, should be content to support the government’s policies,” the President said. According to President Niinistö, the idea that the role of the President would only be to support the foreign policy expressed by the government is unconstitutional.

The President also clarified that the article of the Constitution on the arrangement of foreign policy describes the role of the President only in relation to foreign policy. Tasks and powers are by no means limited to that. “When taking the oath, the President also vows to do all that he can for the best of people of Finland,” he recalled.

The value of the transatlantic relations must be maintained

The United States is preparing intensely for the presidential election. In the Yle interview, President Niinistö did not give an assessment of President Trump’s actions, as this is not customary, particularly before an election. He noted, however, that President Trump measures a lot of things through the balance sheet. “He calculates the balance and this is expressed in dollars. How much comes and goes.” This, in President Niinistö’s view, dominates many of President Trump’s actions in relation to the outside world.

In the case of Europe, this means security issues in particular. “We know the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” said President Niinistö, quoting Oscar Wilde. By this, he said he meant the value of transatlantic cooperation. “Value is weighed in times of crisis. But, of course, everyone hopes that there will be no crisis, so value must be constantly maintained.”