Speech by the President of the Republic  Sauli Niinistö at a dinner in honour of the President of Ukraine at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on 24th January 2017

I warmly welcome you to Finland. Your timing is excellent. We are celebrating hundred years of our independence. This year also marks the 25th, or the 99th, depending on how you want to count it, anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

The theme of our jubilee year is “Together”. We are celebrating modern-day Finland and its history as a nation that can and will thrive also in the 21st century. Our success is measured by the well-being of ordinary Finns and the positive contribution we can make to the world. Even when the circumstances have been adverse, we have remained firm to our values and commitments and have always sought to improve our lives as well as those of others.

One hundred years ago Finland and Ukraine were still parts of the same empire and were affected by the same dramatic changes in Europe. I hope you, Mr. President, found your visit today to the Mannerheim museum a fascinating reminder of our shared history. Marshall Mannerheim witnessed those changes, in Russia, in Finland and in Ukraine where he also served.

We are living in difficult times now. Recent years have seen several threats to European security. The conflict in Ukraine has undoubtedly been the most dramatic case. Finland stands firm in supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We believe that each nation has the right to choose their foreign and security policy solutions. Finland does not accept the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia or the continued destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

The key is respect for international law. The Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE Charter of Paris need to be fully adhered to. We fully support the Normandy and Minsk negotiations. There are no alternatives to implementing the Minsk Agreement. All parties need to do their part in good faith.

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Finland supports Ukraine’s political association and economic integration with the EU. We acknowledge your European aspirations and choice, as stated in the Association Agreement. We believe Ukraine should be granted visa freedom without further delay.

But Europe is not only a calling. It is also a vocation. It requires hard, dedicated work. We urge you to continue reforms. Your efforts in reforming the banking system, energy sector and in enhancing rule of law are already substantial. We are pleased to see progress in fighting corruption. Corruption in particular breeds distrust between the people and the government, and serves to weaken the resilience of a nation.

There is much untapped potential in our bilateral relations. The economy in Ukraine has started to grow again, and we are experiencing a similar improvement here in Finland too. These are good signs. I believe that the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation on energy efficiency that we signed today will contribute to energy security of Ukraine. It will also increase our bilateral trade. Finland aims to become the greenest country in the world. We have plenty of know-how in energy efficiency and bioenergy and we are happy to share it with you.

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I could go on listing fields of co-operation between Finland and Ukraine. But the main point is this: The connections between our countries are intensifying on all levels. Your visit and our wide-ranging dialogue today are concrete manifestations of this.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. President, for the frank dialogue we have had over the recent years. I wish you and Ukraine every success in reforming your country under very difficult circumstances. I also want to thank all who have worked to promote friendly relations between Finland and Ukraine. Let me propose a toast to Ukraine and Finland and to the successful future of our relations.