Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at a dinner for the diplomatic corps at Helsinki City Hall, on 29 April 2014

Check against delivery                                                   

This is the third occasion on which I have had the opportunity to address this esteemed audience. Third time’s the charm, they say! And I am indeed charmed by the active approach you have taken to your diplomatic work in Helsinki. Diplomatic relations retain their value, as recent events have reminded us. Diplomacy is based on human interaction: discussion and listening, and constructive interchanges. Helsinki’s diplomatic community is very strong in this sense and it is always a great pleasure to discuss with you.

Of course, the recent events to which I just referred concern the Ukraine crisis. This crisis and – I believe we must say it openly – Russia’s actions in particular, have rapidly subjected Europe’s security system to intense pressure and damage.

One must admit that the outlook is grim. Familiar, established collective security mechanisms failed to prevent the outbreak and escalation of this crisis. In addition, attempts to return the crisis to where crises belong – the negotiating table – have yet to meet with genuine success. Instead, the crisis continues and is characterised by new, very unpleasant developments such as disappearances, even murders and the seizure of OSCE observers.

The international community now faces a serious challenge in Europe. Further escalation of the Ukraine crisis must be avoided and the matter must be resolved through effective negotiations. This forms the basis of EU and, of course, Finnish policy on the issue.

Should this succeed, at best the effects of the crisis on European security may remain limited: serious, but limited. In time, this would also enable the rebuilding of lost security and the creation of stronger mutual reassurance. I simply cannot believe that this would not be the best and most enduring solution for all European states and their citizens.

In any case, we stand before a major decision: do we control the crisis or allow it to control us? I would emphasise that, if the crisis continues to escalate and the situation deteriorates, the second alternative unavoidably comes closer – the path to open conflict and deep instability. No one should imagine that they can control such a development and its implications.

The outcome of the Ukraine crisis will be a measure of the wisdom and maturity of the states and the people involved. Both genuine dialogue and a sincere attempt to resolve the crisis are needed, sooner rather than later.

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There are also reasons of wider-ranging significance for resolving the Ukraine crisis and preserving the European security system. For one thing, we simply cannot afford to turn our gaze inwards in solving or repeating the problems of the last century, as it were. For we are faced with new issues belonging to this century.

We can rest assured that global economic, technological and climate change will not pause to await a solution to this particular crisis. Such broader transformations will continue and require more from all of us. This is not only a question of the concentration of economic might and populations in emerging economies and new continents. It is about the capacity of our entire planet – our living environment – to withstand the impact of environmental and demographic factors. It is also about the internal cohesion of our societies, at a time when work is being redistributed by a technological and robotic revolution.

By the same token, it is clear to me that the challenges facing nations and humanity as a whole cannot be met through zero-sum games or isolationism. An economy capable of networking and taking its place in the international division of work is the only path to achieving lasting prosperity and success as a nation. We have no alternative but to seek openness and mutually sustainable solutions. None of us are exempt from these laws, however tempting other options may seem in some places.

In sum, we need to be able to handle acute crises such as the one unfolding in Ukraine; both for the sake of the crisis itself, and because bigger, longer-term issues require the international community’s close attention. We cannot afford to forget the big picture. We are all part of it.

Finally, last year I promised you a briefing on the Kultaranta talks. I am well aware that you have been briefed about the proceedings on numerous occasions. I would like to revisit the topic simply by stating that the famous comment – that Finns have the ability to remain silent in several languages – is not true. Indeed, we plan to continue the conversation in June, with another session of talks in Naantali. As we have seen, the world does not stand still and I see no reason why the Finnish debate on foreign and security policy should stand idle.

Dear friends, now I am painfully aware that your cutlery has now been idle for far too long. Please therefore allow me this opportunity to thank you all for a very fruitful year of co-operation. I, my office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs look forward to continuing this excellent tradition in the future.

Thank you!