A Rough Week For Finland’s Foreign Ministry

An embarrassing mini-diplomatic crisis and conflicting statements on joint military exercises are causing problems for Finland’s government.

Last week, Finland’s foreign minister, Erkki Toumioja reacted to a joint letter signed by Estonian, Lithuanian, Danish and British Foreign Minister, calling for the creation of a common solution to combat Russian propaganda by saying that he doesn’t believe EU funds should be used for this purpose.

Tuomioja told the Finnish Swedish language newpaper Hufvudstadsbladet that a comment by EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini criticizing Russian propaganda in the European Union was motivated by Baltic countries “nationalist politics.” He added that the Baltic States “have not broadcast news in Russian,” and that “in Finland have chosen another way.” Tuomioja’s criticism triggered a small diplomatic crisis, when Estonian Foreign Minister, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus summoned the Finnish Ambassador in Tallinn to provide explanation for the comments.

The meeting was business like, according to Pentus-Rosimannus, who later told Delfi that “we cannot fail to react to Russia’s ever-increasing propaganda, which contains complete lies. The EU should resist the Russian propaganda collectively, and this proposal we have made together with Denmark, Great Britain and Lithuania. I hope that Helsinki understands also the importance of this issue, and that Finland will join to the initiative. We cannot allow someone, who operates with untruths and sows hatred, to act in the European Union, i.e. our own citizens’ information space.”

Estonia’s Ambassador to Finland, Margus Laidre told Hufvudstadsbladet in an interview that “Minister Tuomioja is apparently not well informed or well-read when he says that we should not have Russian language media. In Estonia, we have three Russian language newspapers and a Russian language radio station that broadcasts around the clock. We also have a government decision to fund and establish a national Russian language TV channel.

Tuomioja’s comments were unusually sharp given the good relations between Finland and Estonia but are unlikely to cause any permanent issues.

Conflicting Positions on Joint Exercises Between Finnish Foreign Minister and Prime Minister

On Sunday, a report in Helsingin Sanomat, claimed that Tuomioja and President Sauli Niinistö oppose joint NATO air force exercises with the United States in Estonia this spring. Their opposition came as a surprise in what should have been a routine committee meeting.

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has denied that any disagreement exists. Stubb told Helsingin Sanomat that “there is a tendency in discussions on Finnish foreign and security policy to over-dramatize certain situations.”

Each military exercise would be examined on its own, said Stubb, “right now our security situation is slightly tighter than usual, which means that this exercise will be handled in light of that, especially now that the discussion has been made public.”

UpNorth published a timeline of Finnish foreign policy and contradictions that have emerged within the Finnish government on the subject including Foreign Minister Tuomioja’s vocal objections to EU sanctions against Russia.




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