HELSINGIN SANOMAT international

Foreign - Tuesday 4.9.2001

Tones of reconciliation during Putin visit

 Russian President expresses understanding for Karelia demands and NATO hopes of Baltic States

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The first state visit to Finland by Russian President Vladimir Putin proved to be something of a visit of reconciliation.
   
On the second and final day of his visit, Putin wiped away some of the old ghosts of history and expressed understanding for the hopes of the three former Soviet Baltic States to join NATO, as well as for the feelings of the Finnish demonstrators who called on Putin to return the ceded areas of Karelia back to Finland.
   
On Monday Putin laid a wreath with the blue-and-white Finnish national colours at the grave of Finlandís wartime commander-in-chief, Marshal C. G. E. Mannerheim, becoming the first Kremlin leader to do so. During the Soviet years, bestowing such an honour on Mannerheim - a former officer of the Czarís army, commander of the Finnish White army during the Civil War of 1918, and the leader of the armed forces in the Winter War and Continuation War against the Soviet Union - would have been out of the question.
   
At a press conference with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Putin indicated that Russia has already largely accepted the prospect that the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, will eventually become members of NATO. "It is their choice, but we do not see any objective reasons for NATO expansion", Putin said.
   
According to the Russian President the membership of the three Baltic countries in NATO does not make Russia happy, but Russia does not plan any "campaigns of hysteria" over the issue.

On the question of the possible return
of the parts of Karelia ceded to the Soviet Union, Putin said that changing borders is not the best way to resolve problems. However, he added that those calling for the restoration of Karelia must not be ignored. Putinís solutions to the Karelia question are integration and cooperation.

President Halonen also
commented on the prospect of NATO membership of the Baltic States. Gone were the expressions of slight concern: the Finnish President indicated that NATO membership for the three Baltic States was just a matter of time. "My starting point has been that some day in the future these southern neighbours of ours will be NATO members", Halonen said.
   
After an official dinner at the Presidential Palace on Monday evening, President Putin and his wife Ljudmila Putina flew back to Moscow.

Previously in HS International Edition:
 Relaxed, informal start of Putin visit to Finland 3.9.2001


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