Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission on 22 August 2023


Esteemed Heads of Mission, ladies and gentlemen

We live in an era of accumulative and accelerating change. The momentum gathered and the tensions that have been building up over the past years and decades are now rapidly flaring up all over the world.

It seems as if history was being fast forwarded. So much has happened since the last Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission, both globally and here in Finland.

As war is raging in Europe, we have strengthened Finland's security and international position. Finland has become a member of the NATO defence alliance. At the same time, we have enhanced our bilateral relations with our key allies and partners.

In these exceptional times, the Finnish diplomacy has proven its strength and value. We have completed major tasks while the important everyday work consisting of smaller things has continued.

The past year has not been easy. The troubled times we are living have also been directly reflected in your work. Our embassies in different parts of the world have had to operate in conditions that are constantly getting more difficult. Those employed in Kyiv have been working surrounded by war for a long time now. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, unpleasant surprises have followed one another. In autumn, one era will come to an end in St. Petersburg with the closure of the Consulate General. Rapidly changing situations in the Middle East, and latest in Baghdad, have also forced us to react.

Therefore, I want to thank you and the competent staffs of the missions you are leading for the tireless work you have been doing during this year, regardless of the conditions.

* * *

Even though a lot of things have changed, a lot also remains unchanged. Finland is and will remain a stable and predictable Nordic country. For us, the Nordic countries are not only a political reference group but Nordicness is also a fundamental part of our identity and value base. It is a group of like-minded countries that is capable of acting together and sharing burdens. Of safeguarding one another, if necessary. And also, of protecting values that are important to us. Together we are stronger in every sector, whether it is a question of promoting our foreign and security policy goals or business interests.

Nordicness has a certain power of attraction. In May, I had the honour of hosting President Zelenskyy in Helsinki together with the prime ministers of the other Nordic Countries. In July we convened again, this time with the President of the United States Joe Biden as our guest. I believe that in the future the Nordic brand will bring us even closer together.

We do have true friends also in other parts of the world. After the Swedish NATO membership is hopefully soon finalised, we are united by alliance with thirty-one states. This alliance covers almost the whole Baltic Sea area. Our relationship with the United States is also now stronger than ever, and it will be strengthened even further by the bilateral defence co-operation agreement.

Still, even in the future, Finland continues to bear the final responsibility for its own security. But we are doing it as a member of NATO and a close ally of its member states. This maximises our own security. It also strengthens the security of our allies.

Joining a military alliance is a major change in our security policy. Finland's military integration into NATO structures has been formally finalised, but the actual work is only beginning. For many of you it will bring concrete changes in your work. However, I want to remind you, that even as an allied country we are still the same Finland as before – not bigger than itself, but one that holds firmly on to what is ours.

Finland does not build its foreign and security policy upon military deterrence only. The need for our own diplomacy has not reduced. Just the opposite. We continue to believe in the power of dialogue and cooperation wherever they are possible.
It is still our aim to ease and cross division lines and to build mutual respect and trust. Even in the future, Finland continues to look for common denominators, even for the lowest one.

Unfortunately, that is not possible with everyone for the time being. Russia is busy painting an enemy image of us. This primarily derives from Russia’s internal needs, but it is not without external impacts. In the process, the causes and effects are turned upside down. An aggressor is turned into a victim. Finland and the West are turned into a threat and a source of danger. Such is the twisted nature of information warfare.

We should also be prepared for all kinds of other dirty tricks. Many kinds of cyber and hybrid operations have become commonplace. The growing pressure of illegal immigration is again visible on the borders of Poland and Latvia. The news from Sweden also alert us to wake up to the threat of terrorism.

We are not immune to this kind of measures either. A time like this calls for enhanced action and vigilance from us. Not only in relation to Russia, but also in a larger scale. We must now invest in security in every sector and fill in any gaps we have in both capabilities and legislation.

The same challenge applies to the whole of Europe – and the European Union. The U.S. still carries a very large responsibility for our continent's security. It is of course valuable to us, but it is not self-evident that this will always be the case. My recurring theme has been that Europe should take the responsibility for its own security more seriously. Now, at the latest, we must wake up to bearing that responsibility. It is without detriment to transatlantic cooperation. Just the opposite. A stronger Europe also strengthens our capacity to collaborate with the U.S. together.

* * *

Slightly over a 100 years ago, a Finnish diplomat called Herman Gummerus worked in Ukraine during the country's first but very short-lived period of independence. While there, one of the key observations he made was that the Ukrainian people have a strong national identity and love for their country. He saw that the Ukrainians would not be content with their oppressed status and was of the opinion that Ukraine’s freedom was in Finland's best interest. “As Finns, we will rejoice when the people of Ukraine succeed in their pursuit of freedom, which is so much in the best interests of our own country,” he wrote. Both the world and Finland have changed, but these observations remain valid.

In Ukraine, guns continue to talk. Month after month, Russia has been escalating its warfare. It has been bombing civilian infrastructure and cities, annexing new areas and using hunger and cold as weapons. By terminating its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Russia has more and more clearly taken the global food market and the countless people seriously affected by the rise in grain prices its hostage.

What is new, however, is that now there has also been talk about peace. The just and lasting peace Ukraine deserves is probably still far away, but two of its outlines are already taking shape.

The first one is the importance of the principles of the UN Charter. This was confirmed at the meeting of National Security Advisors held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a few weeks ago. It was particularly significant that China participated in the meeting.

Another growing and shared global concern are the repercussions of the war. The war is fought in Ukraine, but it is casting its shadow over the whole world.

These two factors are now bringing the international community together to discuss peace. The fact that the situation is discussed increases understanding in itself. An even more important matter is that the discussions revealed that the participants share a broad mutual understanding of the basic principles. This is also a factor that Russia must take into account.

A just and lasting peace in Ukraine is a fundamental value. For the Ukrainians themselves, it is the most valuable and essential goal. Making progress in this matter may also serve the cause of peace in a wider scale in the world and help ease global tensions.

Discussion about the future of the European security order is also about to begin. And this is good. However, for as long as there is a war raging in Europe, outlining a new security order is not much more than fumbling about in the dark. But fumble we must.

Finland's OSCE chairmanship is approaching. It is quite obvious that the world we are living in today is totally different from the one we were living in when we committed ourselves to the task. However, it is not ruled out that the year 2025 could coincide with a decisive moment as regards the development of the European security order. If, by then, the time has come for negotiations and dialogue, the OSCE is a natural platform for them, in spite of its many challenges. And if, by then – as I sincerely hope – the war has ended, the OSCE and its various instruments may lend themselves to ensuring continued state of peace and promoting the shaping of a new, lasting security order. From the state holding the chairmanship all this requires careful preparation and diplomacy of careful consideration.

* * *

Our national Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission is not the only important meeting this week. By this I refer to the BRICS summit in South Africa.

There are two matters that are conspicuous about the meeting. Firstly, a counterforce to the West is being searched for and built. And such an endeavour is not without attraction. There are many countries that would like to join the BRICS group.

Secondly, it seems clear that the BRICS group is not monolithic. It consists of countries coming from very differing starting points. Evidently, the members of the group themselves understand that objecting to something alone does not serve as sufficient incentive for action. We should be closely following what kind of new initiatives the BRICS countries start bringing up. The West will not probably like all of them.

However, one is physically absent from the group. Russian President Putin attends the meeting remotely. This is proof of the power of the International Criminal Court.

A struggle over the souls of the nations is underway. We often hear that the West should have a better narrative. It is evident that having a good and clear story does not hurt. But the world is not built upon arguments alone. They need to be supported by clear actions that show whose word is worth relying on.

Our contribution must amount to more than pointing out the shortcomings in the way others think. We must show by words and actions why the others should see some of the matters differently. And we should not always aim to change the way other people think. Sometimes it is equally important to show respect, agree to disagree and overlook the differences to see something else that may possibly unite us. In this respect, Finland has valuable traditions to foster.

* * *

In September 2021, I gave a national statement at the United Nations General Assembly in which I highlighted the fact that climate change is proceeding even faster than we previously believed. I also said that we are facing a global climate emergency.

This summer has shown how close to that emergency we have come. Scorching heat and wildfires of unforeseen force have raged in some areas, while others have suffered from exceptionally heavy rainfall and floods. And even though the Lahja storm that threatened Finland a while back let us off the hook, climate change has not been called off for our part either. For what we have experienced recently is just a foretaste of the ordeals to come if we cannot bring climate change under control.

We are possibly on the verge of crossing irreversible tipping points. In a situation like this, we should wake up to the fact that there is no place on this planet that could escape serious problems. And even if climate change treated some regions a little more leniently than others, the problems of the areas hit the hardest affect the rest of the world anyway.

However, we cannot mitigate climate change by giving speeches. Or by taking action here in Finland alone. What we need is far-reaching global action. For a long time, we have been saying and hearing that now is the time to act. But now the time for action is really here.

* * *

It is hardly necessary to highlight to diplomats that the world is also built by how we use words. A single word, carefully chosen and timed and said with sincerity, may heal an inflamed situation and bring people together again.

Words can also be used for breaking and harming the world. It is not a trivial matter what kind of language we use. History shows how evil words only disseminate discord and even hate. Hate, on the other hand, easily leads to actions, even violence.

National unity and integrity are the traditional foundations of Finland. We saw their power in the swift and determined NATO decision. In this time and age, it continues to be of primary importance to cherish and build our unity instead of tearing it apart.

Seeds of discord are also sown and fed from outside our national borders. Finland's first and foremost line of defence is still located between the ears of the people living here. We should all together take care of ensuring that this line of defence holds.

* * *

Even though there are dangers and hardships in our time, not everything is in a bad way. Undeniably, many things are now better than before. We have everything we need for building a better world.

Foreign policy is not only about hard security and tough positions. Locating views of hope is one of the most important tasks of a diplomat. That is also often the place where the creative element uniting and bringing people and nations together may be found. I would like to wish you strength and success also for this important task.

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