Details emerge on Putin’s visit to Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto during their meeting in Naantali, Finland in July 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)
The Russian and Finnish presidents will meet next week at sites in eastern Finland redolent with the two countries’ shared history. As part of centenary celebrations, they are to attend an open performance of an all-Russian production at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, which dates back to the Tsarist era.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s office on Wednesday confirmed that he will hold talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next week in eastern Finland. The two presidents are to meet on Thursday, July 27 in Savonlinna. Niinistö will host Putin at the historic Punkaharju Hotel, some 30 km east of the centre of Savonlinna.

The official statement does not specify what will be on the agenda for talks other than the standard “bilateral relations and topical international issues”.

After their tête-à-tête at the hotel, Niinistö and Putin will sail by steamship through Lake Saimaa to Savonlinna. There they will dine at Olavinlinna Castle and watch a Bolshoi Theatre production of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 opera Iolanta at the Savonlinna Opera Festival.

As of Wednesday afternoon, tickets were still available for the three-hour performance, beginning at around 100 euros.

Despite tensions between Moscow and the EU over Ukraine, Niinistö has met frequently with Putin since they both took office in 2012. They most recently held talks in March during an Arctic conference in north-west Russia, and a year ago at the Finnish presidential summer residence near Turku.

Sites steeped in history

This latest visit ties in with celebrations of the centenary of Finnish independence from Russia, which ruled the country from 1809 to 1917. As such the sites are deeply steeped in the two countries’ shared history.

Olavinlinna Castle was built in the late fifteenth century by Erik Axelsson Tott as Sweden and Russia battled for control of Finland.  It was captured by the Russians 1714 and again in 1743, after which Russia gained control of much of eastern Finland. The Savonlinna Opera Festival began there in 1912, during the Russian era, but broke off in the independence year of 1917, only to be revived a half-century later.

The Punkaharju Hotel began as a humble foresters’ lodge in 1845. The Punkaharju ridge was already a well-known beauty spot in the Saimaa Lake system.

In 1878, it was converted into a State Hotel by Russian Tsar Alexander II, opening just two years before his death. Nearly four decades later, Finland gained independence from Russia shortly before the fall of his grandson Tsar Nicholas II.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada takes part in EU meeting on Arctic policy, Radio Canada International

Denmark: Q&A: Impact assessments in the Arctic – What Canada and Greenland can learn from each other, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Putin to visit Finland for its 100th anniversary, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland won’t back down on sanctions against Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: Russia test-fires missile from the Barents Sea hours before Norway’s foreign minister visits, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s foreign minister visits Lend-Lease Monument in Fairbanks, Alaska Dispatch News

Sweden: Finnish president meets with Swedish PM, royals amid Winter War commemorations, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaskans greet North Korean missile test with a shrug not a shriek, Alaska Public Media

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