More info needed on air force exercises says Finland’s president

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President Sauli Niinistö speaking on Tuesday at a press conference called to deflect claims of discord over Finnish participation in US-Estonian air force exercises.(Yle)
President Sauli Niinistö speaking on Tuesday at a press conference called to deflect claims of discord over Finnish participation in US-Estonian air force exercises.(Yle)
The President of Finland said on Tuesday that the government does not have enough information about joint US-Estonian air force exercises to make a decision about Finnish participation.

He also denied claims from the US embassy that Finland had been invited to take part weeks ago.

President Sauli Niinistö has denied that Finland had received an invitation to participate in air force exercises with Estonia and the United States.

The US embassy had said on Tuesday that the invitation was sent weeks ago, but Niinistö claimed in a press conference on Tuesday that the Defence Ministry had not received an official invite. Speaking at an exceptional press conference called to discuss this single, controversial issue, the President said that Finland would only make a decision on the issue once it had more information.

Estonian-American operation

The exercises would be a bilateral Estonian-American operation, not organised under the auspices of Nato. Niinistö stressed that Finland has previously participated in Nato-led exercises and would continue to do so. Embassy spokesman Jeffrey Reneau said on Tuesday that Sweden and Finland, neighbouring countries that are not members of Nato, have also been invited to take part.

That contradicts both Niinistö’s and Defence Minister Carl Haglund’s statements on the matter.

The issue arose on Sunday, when Helsingin Sanomat reported that Niinistö and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja had both intervened in ministerial security committee discussions to oppose the plan for Finnish participation, while the plan was supported by Defence Ministry officials, the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

Niinistö denied interfering in the process, but said he had simply asked questions about what kind of exercises were planned and what was expected of Finland. He said that the controversy over Finnish participation in patrols of Icelandic airspace had prompted an active ‘self-preservation instinct’.

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