Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has dismissed criticism from an unnamed Estonian government official and Finnish political pundits who questioned his decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.
The critics called on Niinistö to cancel the meeting with Putin to protest the increase in Russian military aggression in Eastern Europe, but the Finnish president ignored their demands.
Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat said that Niinistö was “indignant” when news media recently confronted him with the criticism.
“Who has criticized me...apart from exactly one Estonian minister” and "a couple of so-called experts?" Niinistö said.
Increasing tension between Russia and the NATO military alliance resulted in “the buildup of arms right on our doorstep,” Niinistö said, though he dismissed the notion that Finland could face military hostility.
Finland shares a border hundreds of kilometers long with Russia.
The New York Times reported on June 13 that the U.S. Department of Defense is planning to post heavy weaponry and thousands of American soldiers in NATO territory in Eastern Europe to serve as a check against Russian aggression.
The Moscow meeting will touch on Finland’s concerns over Russia’s military activity in Ukraine, as well as trade and cultural issues, officials said.
Finland has strong economic ties to Russia, but the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and involvement in the crisis in eastern Ukraine has led some Finnish officials to call for increased cooperation with NATO, or even membership in the alliance, to ensure the country’s future security.
Niinistö described Finland as an “advanced partner” of NATO last November, but the Finnish government has yet to express definitive interest in entering the military alliance.
“It is very obvious that if Finland joins NATO, that would undoubtedly harm our relations [with Russia],” he told The Washington Post.
From Russia's perspective, Finland has been too close to NATO and the European Union, which last year imposed harsh sanctions on Moscow that have helped drive Russia's economy into recession.
"Abiding by the principle of European solidarity, Finland joined the sanction pressure on Russia, which negatively speaks on the whole range of Russian-Finnish economic ties," the Kremlin noted on June 15.
"According to experts, Finland is among the worst hit by Russia's retaliatory measures against EU countries," it noted. "The Finnish government does not support new sanctions against Russia."
Finnish exports to Russia fell by 47.5 percent last year.
Finland and Russia have been cooperating in building and operating nuclear power plants, and last year Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation purchased Arctech Helsinki Shipyard, which makes ice-class ships, including for servicing gas and oil production on the Russian shelf.
With reporting by International Business Times and TASS