Monday’s summit from Finland’s perspective

Editor’s note: Thomas Regelski, an emeritus distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, is in Finland and witnessed the coverage and protests on Monday in reference to the United States and Russia.

HELSINKI, Finland — As the world knows, American President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Monday here for a summit conference. Local news coverage was prolific and negatively honest. In what follows I only report local news reporting from Finnish news sources, and from personal eyewitness accounts. These reports are aided by my wife Kaisa, a Finnish Ph.D. Marine Biologist, who also speaks Russian and helped me understand the Russian part of the news conference.

Warning: Most Finns and Europeans seriously disapprove of Mr. Trump, and their public reactions to his presence thus reflect a decided hostility. Newspapers here emphasize that Finland is not a neutral nation but, rather, a member of the European Community, but are more than cautious about Russia, given its history with them. Trump’s attacks on NATO (of which Finland is not a member) were understood locally as attacks on the EU.

The day before the arrival of the leading figures, the various local news outlets trumpeted (pun intended) President Trump’s Tweet blaming the U.S. for the poor relations with Russia: “Our relationship with Russian has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity, and now the Rigged Witch Hunt” (emphasis his).” The Finnish press quickly noted the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry mocked the Tweet by quoting it word-for-word in its propaganda!

Several news sources wondered about the diplomatic implications of this Tweet in advance of the important meeting of the two adversaries-whether it disadvantaged Trump’s position in advance.

Thus, with this Tweet, the big news leading up to the summit (aside from the public disruption to Helsinki), was former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who said that the President’s Tweet was “ridiculous” for condemning the EU and other American (NATO) allies for the current impasses — over Syria, Crimea, and US election meddling. “Just really disappointing,” he commented [quoted in English]: “Not mentioning the fact that Russian annexed territory in Crimea and sparked a war-10,000 people have died in Eastern Ukraine. Not mentioning he supports this brutal dictator in Syria where half a million people died, and not mentioning the fact he violated our sovereignty in 2016 [elections].”

“So all of those things, in my view are the reasons why there’s tensions in U.S.-Russia relations. For President Trump to just insinuate as he just did in his initial remarks today, well bygones-lets’ forget about all that stuff and move on because I want a great relationship with you, Putin. That’s just not serving America’s national interest, in my view.” “No other president has ever made such a criticism in favor of Russia.” “Be honest, my Russian [diplomatic] colleagues, not in your wildest dreams did you ever think that you’d have someone in the White House blaming America for all tensions in US-Russian relations.”

The day began slowly, for a meeting planned for 6 a.m., Putin was 45 minutes late (as Trump had been for his meeting with the British Queen). Noted by reporters, Trump showed up empty handed while Putin arrived with a pen and pad. At least 10 protest demonstrations were permitted by officials. One advocated peace, with signs “Make peace great again” and “Stop War not People.” Speakers included internationally acclaimed (Finnish-Estonian) novelist Sofi Oksanen protesting that Putin and Trump were seeking to benefit from a weak and divided Europe.

Another demonstration involved a lively group of pregnant women, all in red, opposing Trump’s anti-abortion “policies that threaten women’s reproductive rights.” A large banner posted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church proclaimed “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Not to be overlooked, two right-wing “True Finns” (party members) proudly displayed a banner, “Make America Great Again.”

Other prominent banners promoted “Make America Trade Again” (a mockery of Trump’s tariffs), “Make Peace Great Again” (a play on MAGA) and ‘Stop War Not People” (a comment on immigration). A sauna provided for journalists proclaimed “Trump and Putin: Welcome to our sauna. Let’s talk about Democracy, Human Rights, the Environment.”

Throughout the city, at tram and bus stops, the leading national newspaper, the Helsinki Sanomat, had large advertisements: “Trump calls media enemy of the people-Welcome to the land of free press.” And, Greenpeace activists dramatically scaled the Kallio Cathedral bell tower to unfurl a banner, “Warm our hearts not our planet.”

During the news conference, an individual claiming to be a reporter for The Nation was forcibly removed, loudly complaining (in English) about the lack of free press coverage. Otherwise, the press commented extensively on how well the press were treated by Finnish authorities, with free food, beer, saunas, and media conveniences. The weather also cooperated with temperatures at 80 degrees — called a heat wave here, causing many to retire quickly to shade and a cold beer (the same reason I prefer my Finland home to Brocton for the summers).

As to the press conference, I quote directly from the reporting of Finnish English webpage, YLE (:https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/). “US President Donald Trump once more sought to reassure friends and foes that Russia did not meddle in the US election of 2016.According to Trump, the pair ‘spoke of Russian interference in the election. We spent a great deal of time talking about it. Putin also felt strongly about it and has an interesting idea,’ Trump told a gaggle of international journalists, without however elaborating on the idea.”

“Asked by a Reuters journalist whether he did indeed attempt to hold Putin and Russia accountable for anything related to the claims of interference, Trump doubled down on his defence [sic]. ‘There was no collusion, everybody knows it. … It was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily. It’s a shame that there could even be a bit of a cloud over it,’ the US president insisted. ‘The probe is a disaster for our country. There was no collusion, everybody knows it. It was a clean campaign. There was zero collusion. This [probe] has had an impact on the relationship between the two largest nuclear powers in the world,’ he said a third time. ‘There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president; there was nobody to collude with,’ Trump continued in a long answer, referring to the probe into the suspicions of election interference by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

“Putin also relayed the same message, both in his prepared remarks at the beginning of the press conference and later when taking questions from pool journalists. ‘On the so-called interference of Russia in US elections, I reiterated what I said several times. The Russian state has never interfered and will never interfere in the internal workings of the US state,’ he said early in the proceedings, adding that both sides could look at the issue via a joint working group on cybersecurity.”

“During his turn to respond to the question of Russian accountability for the alleged election meddling, Putin responded cryptically, ‘Where did you get the idea that President Trump trusts me or that I trust him? He defends the interest of the USA and I defend the interests of Russia. We are looking for areas where we can cooperate. ‘We should be guided by facts. Can you name any facts that definitively prove collusion? It’s nonsense!’ he continued.”

The evening news (7/16: accessed 6:42 PM local time) from YLE, the national news service, reports a Tweet from former U.S. CIA director John Brennan: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

From Dan Rather, “The President of the United States trusts the word of a former KGB agent over the consensus of the American intelligence community backed by a ton of facts. That is a shocking reality. Everyone who excuses Trump’s behavior must answer that now, and when history inevitably judges.”

These are the facts from Helsinki: commentary will follow your preferred news source.


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