Kremlin skeptical about Finland’s president-elect
Russia respects the choice of the Finnish people, who elected former prime minister Alexander Stubb as their new president, but does not expect bilateral relations to improve during his term, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.
Stubb, who was nominated by the liberal conservative National Coalition Party, won Sunday's poll in a tight race against Pekka Haavisto, an independent candidate backed by the center-left Green League. As Stubb acquired 51.6% of the votes with 99.7% of ballots counted, Haavisto conceded defeat.
When power changes hands in a foreign nation, Moscow normally expresses hope that the new leader will seek good relations with Russia, but “unfortunately we cannot use this part of our standard wording in this case,” Peskov told journalists on Monday. Stubb’s public statements indicate that “dialogue would not be possible,” he explained.
During televised debates last month, both candidates were asked how they would react to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling to congratulate them following their victory. Stubb said he would not pick up the phone, since Moscow would have used Finland “as a pawn” for “propaganda”. Haavisto disagreed, saying he was open for contacts with Moscow, provided that the Finish position was pre-agreed with fellow EU members.
However, the Kremlin didn’t offer a chance for the president-elect to deliver on his promise. Speaking at his first official press conference in his new role, Stubb said he hadn’t received any calls from Russia. He reiterated that the two nations shall have “no relationship” for as long as the Ukraine conflict continues.
Finland has a parliamentary political system, but the president has a role in formulating foreign policy and serves as commander-in-chief. Once inaugurated on March 1, Stubb will succeed Sauli Niinisto, who has held the presidency since 2012.
Under Niinisto, the country abandoned its long-held tradition of political neutrality and joined NATO. Moscow perceived the move as hostile and said it undermined Finland’s security rather than improved it, as its government claimed.
Stubb served as prime minister in 2014-2015 and has held various ministerial positions, including as finance minister, minister of European affairs and foreign minister. He has also represented Finland in the national legislature and the European Parliament.
The 55-year-old is a critic of Moscow today, but in 2014, his government signed a contract with the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom to build a power plant in Finland. The decision was taken months after Crimea’s reunification with Russia. The then-prime minister accused MPs opposing the Fennovoima project of Russophobia.