TALLINN, Sep 13, BNS – Estonian Minister of Defense Juri Luik and his Finnish counterpart Jussi Niinisto during their meeting in Helsinki on Wednesday discussed defense cooperation and matters related to the Zapad joint large scale military exercise of Russia and Belarus.
Luik and Niinisto talked about the regional security situation in view of the Zapad large scale exercise and bilateral defense cooperation, spokespeople for the Estonian Defense Ministry said.
Also discussed was defense cooperation within the European Union, which has been supported also by Finland.
During an informal meeting of EU defense ministers in Tallinn last week, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the Estonian minister of defense both expressed hope that important decisions concerning EU defense cooperation will be reached already by the end of this year.
Finland is positively minded about EU defense cooperation and is waiting for practical solutions.
Luik also visited the Hietaniemi cemetery in Helsinki and laid wreaths to honor fallen soldiers.
Lieutenant General Steven M. Shepro, Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee (DCMC) visited Finland on 28-29 August 2017. During his visit, Lieutenant General Steven M. Shepro attended the 4th Helsinki Summer Session and visited the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.
During his visit, Lieutenant General Steven M. Shepro attended and spoke at the 4th Annual Helsinki Summer Session which was organised by the Center for US Politics and Power (CUSPP) at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
His speech, titled “NATO and the future of Collective Defence”, addressed the prospects of collective defence, the military and political measures NATO has taken to meet current and future challenges as well as the role of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners.
When speaking about the new challenges that have emerged in recent years and have drastically changed the post-Cold War security environment, Lieutenant General Shepro highlighted NATO’s efforts in responding to these challenges: “In response to these challenges, NATO’s is enhancing the SPEED, SCALE and SCOPE of its ability to ensure effective collective defense.
To do this, the Alliance is looking at three key areas, keeping carefully in mind the importance of partners, like Finland:
Situational Awareness (360°),
Readiness and Interoperable Capabilities
Coherence and Communication”
Lieutenant General Shepro went on to explain the ongoing work on the Alliance’s Defense and Deterrence capabilities, as well as the implementation of the Readiness Action Plan, Enhanced Forward Presence and Tailored Forward Presence, and the important role they play in NATO’s response to these challenges and deterring any potential aggressor.
The General also emphasised that in a world where globalised threats have become a reality, NATO must “build bridges with international organisations such as the EU and capitalize on its partnerships with countries like Finland or Sweden. These partnerships are critical. NATO is increasingly including partners in exercises, information-sharing, standardization, and requirements planning. As an Enhanced Opportunity Partner, Finland is particularly engaged in these areas”.
The visit was also an opportunity for Lieutenant General Shepro to visit Finland’s European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.
Earlier this year, nine NATO and EU Nations signed the Memorandum of Understanding to establish the centre: Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
While not signatories themselves, NATO and the EU will participate actively in the Centre’s activities. Lieutenant General Shepro acknowledged the importance of the Centre, “countering hybrid threats is a priority for NATO, as they blur the line between war and peace and combine multiple capabilities and tactics”.
Allied Maritime Command Commander, Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, will make an official visit to Finland beginning on 24 August 2017.
The visit will be hosted by the Chief of Finnish Navy, Vice Admiral Veijo Taipalus.
In conjunction with the Commander’s visit, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) will arrive in Helsinki August 25 for a scheduled port visit as part of the group’s deployment in the Baltic Sea. The group will be hosted by Coastal Fleet.
Finland is one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led operations and missions – it is one of five countries that has enhanced opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with NATO.
The leadership discussions and port visit are a practical outcome of Finnish partnership with NATO in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The Commander’s visit allows for discussions on Finland’s maritime cooperation with NATO and the port visit provides an opportunity for sailors from the group to work with their Finnish counterparts to exchange information and enhance interoperability.
During the port visit, the SNMG1 command team will meet with local civilian and military leadership in Helsinki. The port visit is also a great opportunity for the sailors to enjoy a break from operations.
SNMG1 is currently composed of the NATO group flagship, Norwegian frigate HNoMS Otto Sverdrup, Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown, Portuguese frigate NRP Francisco de Almeida and German tanker FGS Rhön.
Some of the ships will be open and welcome visitors aboard both Saturday 26 August and Sunday 27 August from 13.00 to 16.00. The ships will be at Hernesaari Quay, Helsinki Harbor, Henry Fordin katu 5.
Security measures during open ship
For security reasons, the following is not allowed to be brought on board:
. Large bags, backpacks etc.
. Weapons or dangerous objects
. Cameras, cell phones, tablets, computers etc
All visitors and their baggage may be subject to search before entry.
General JONATHAN VANCE, Chief of the Defence Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces, conducted a working visit to Finland on 16-17 August 2017. The visit was hosted by the commander of the Finnish Defence Forces, General Jarmo Lindberg.
During his visit General Vance met with the Finnish Minister of Defence, Mr Jussi Niinistö, among others. He was also familiarised with Finland’s military national defence.
The Commander of the Finnish Defence Forces, General Jarmo Lindberg, and the Director General of the Resource Policy Department of the Finnish Ministry of Defence, Raimo Jyväsjärvi, hosted a defence cooperation meeting in Helsinki on 18 August 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the proposed US sanctions against Russia violate international law, speaking at a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Savonlinna, yesterday.
“Sanctions are illegal from the point of view of international law, they violate the principle of international trade by World Trade Organization,” Putin said, adding that Russia “is very patient now, but at some point we will have to answer to this.”
Putin is on an official visit in Finland to mark the 100th anniversary of the country’s independence. Later on the day Putin and Niinisto will attend an opera production from the Bolshoi Theatre at the Olavinlinna Castle.
Vladimir Putin, Russian President (Russian):
“I don’t consider it as an investigation. The investigation implies getting the full consequences and studying the reasons, listening to different sides. All we see now is the increase of anti-Russian hysteria, most probably they are using Russophobia in an internal political fight, in this case the fight between President Trump and his opponents inside the United States.”
“It is a pity that Russia – Our relationships are being sacrificed for solving issues inside the US. Do I regret the worsening of relations with the US? I can answer directly. Of course, we deeply regret it.”
“When we are talking about the borders of US legislation, I should say, I have been talking about it for a long time, since 2007 in Munich, I think. That is exactly what I said. This practice is not acceptable; it destroys international relationships and international law. We have never agreed on that, and never will agree on that. And it depends on other states’ sovereignty and readiness to protect their own interests, how they react on that themselves.”
“If the same will happen in this case, it will be even more regretful, since it will be aggravated action and especially cynical, as I would say.”
“It is a clear attempt to use the geopolitical advantages in competitive fight with the goal to serve its economic interests at the expense of its partners.”
“We can see that we have been constantly provoked during the last few years. A lot of our diplomats have been expelled with no reason. Diplomatic property has been taken away, which is unthinkable as it contradicts the basic norm of international law in diplomatic relationships.”
“Sanctions are illegal from the point of view of international law, they violate the principle of international trade by World Trade Organization. As you know we are being very patient now, but at some point we will have to answer this. It is impossible to endlessly accept the rudeness directed at our country.”
“In any case, regardless of what is happening now, we will have to achieve some elements of cooperation and agreements.”
After concluding their drills with the Russian Navy in the Baltic Sea, ships from the Chinese Navy’s task group are scheduled to visit Finland for a regularly scheduled port call.
Three Chinese warships, Type 052D destroyer Hefei (DDG-174), Type 054A frigate Yuncheng (571) and Type 903 replenishment ship Luomahu (964), are currently taking part in the Maritime Cooperation 2017 exercise.
The exercise, which started July 21 and is set to conclude on July 28, is taking place under close watch of NATO SNMG1 ships.
The Russian Navy is participating with Project 20380 corvettes Steregushchiy and Boikiy, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.
According to an announcement by the Finnish defense forces, the Chinese task group is expected to arrive in Finland on August 1 for a four-day visit. The ship will berth at Katajanokka, Port of Helsinki, where they will host an open ship event on August 2.
A navy spokesperson said the visit was a routine port call with no exercises or other activities planned.
Major General Petri Hulkko will assume the post of Commander of the Finnish Army on the 1st August 2017. The current Commander of the Army, Lieutenant General Seppo Toivonen will sign his post over to Major General Hulkko at the Concert and Congress House Mikaeli’s yard in Mikkeli on Monday the 31st July 2017. Lieutenant General Toivonen transfers to the reserve from the 1st August 2017.
Since January 2017, Hulkko has held the post of Chief of Staff of Army Command Finland. Before this, Hulkko has served as among others Deputy Chief of Division of the Eastern Command, Commander of the Utti Jaeger Regiment, Military Advisor at the Ministry of Defence and Chief of Army Operations. He was promoted to the rank of Major General in 2016.
The ceremony will be held in Mikkeli at the Concert and Congress House Mikaeli’s yard at 2.30 p.m. There will be a troop represented from each contingent of the Finnish Army. The public has an opportunity to follow the ceremony at pavement between the Mikaeli and the street Savilahdenkatu.
On the 12th of September 1923, the charter establishing the ‘Aero Company OY’ (Aero Ltd.) was signed in Helsinki heralding the birth of what would become Finnair, the National carrier of Finland. On the 9th of October the same year, the company was entered into the trade register beginning operations on the 1st November following the first shareholders meeting.
Aero OY was founded by Gustaf Snellman, Fritiof Åhman and Bruno Otto Lucander. Consul Bruno Lucander became the company’s first managing director, bringing with him experience in long-distance air travel gained in his time as General Manager of the company ‘Finland Spedition-Central Ab-Suomen Välityskeskus O/Y’ from 1918. His company had handled the interests of the Estonian airline ‘Aeronaut’ in Finland, when Aeronaut had begun operating flights from Tallinn to Helsinki.
Lieutenant-Colonel Arne Somersalo, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force) served as a technical advisor to the board of directors from 1923. The company received 500,000 Marks from the Government upon its founding; this was increased to 1 million Marks on the 12th December. Aero OY carried 269 passengers in its first year.
Late in 1923, the Estonian airline Aeronaut was acquired by the German company Junkers Flugzeugwerke A.G. and a Junkers F.13 went into service on the Helsinki route. The aircraft was a single-engine monoplane, equipped with a closed cabin and seats for four passengers. The crew consisted of a pilot and a mechanic.
Aeronaut had shown that the Junkers F.13 was up to the challenge of operating in the harsh conditions of Northern Europe which convinced Lucander that the aircraft should be the first choice for Aero.
In summer 1923 Lucander concluded an agreement with the Junkers Flugzeugwerke A.G. for the delivery to Aero of one aircraft plus technical help and personnel in exchange for a 50 per cent holding in the Finnish company.
On the 14th of March 1924, Aero took delivery of its first aircraft, a German-registered Junkers F.13 D-335. The Junkers Factory pilot Heinrich Putz flew the aircraft to Helsinki three days later. Its maiden commercial flight was on the 20 March 1924, when it carried 162 kilos of mail from Helsinki to Tallinn.
Aero was based at Katajanokka, Helsinki where in 1923 the facilities consisted of a small terminal building and one seaplane ramp.
On June 2nd 1924, Aero began operations from Helsinki to Stockholm with the cooperation of the Swedish airline ABA. Operations were conducted with the Junkers fitted with floats because at that time Helsinki and Tallinn had no airfields.
Stockholm offered a rail link to Gothenburg, which offered flight connections to Copenhagen, Oslo and London. Both ABA and Aero operated between Helsinki and Stockholm during the summer. The Helsinki to Stockholm route was not as successful as the Helsinki to Tallinn route which was supported by the Nord-Europa Union of airlines which was supported by the Junkers factory with a connection to Königsberg, which in turn had a rail link to Berlin.
During the summer of 1924, Aero employed its first Finnish pilot, Gunnar Lihr, which brought the total number of employees to seven. The company was keen to interest the Finnish people in aviation giving 833 public demonstration flights in 1925.
Regular flights between Helsinki and Tallinn continued throughout 1925, in May 1926 the Junkers factory’s Nord-Europa Union and the Trans-Europa Union were merged into a single conglomeration of sixteen airlines. The Union of German airlines formed soon after this with the absorption of the German company Aero Lloyd into Deutsche Luft Hansa. Support for Aero OY from Junkers would decline after this merger as the Junkers factory focused its attention on the larger German carriers.
In 1926, Aero purchased a three engined, 9 passenger Junkers G 24 with help from the Government in the form of a state guaranteed loan. The aircraft was bought to Helsinki on the 4th June and put into service on the Stockholm route. The Junkers G 24 was equipped with skis which restricted its operations to the summer months.
In 1927, Aero became a member of IATA (The International Air Transport Association); The company was given the code, “AY”, which stands for Aero Yhtiö which means “company” in Finnish.
Later that year, the company’s Managing Director Bruno Otto Lucander, embarked on Aero’s first around-Finland flight. Several journalists were embarked on the flight taking the first flying tour of the country which went as far north as Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle.
The aim of the tour was to demonstrate to Aero’s board of directors that the commercial domestic routes of the company could be expanded to include the territories to the north.
At this stage Aero was enthusiastic about the possibility of building one or more permanent airports on land. They were however keenly aware that the 3 million population of Finland with its 187,888 lakes, were reluctant to build airstrips on land. As a result Aero remained with its current seaplane operations, opening Turku-Ruissalo air harbour in May 1927 enabling flight traffic to start between Turku and Stockholm.
During June 1928, an Aero Junkers F.13 piloted by Gunnar Lihr took part in the search for the explorer Umberto Nobile’s airship Italia, which had crashed on Spitzbergen after running into a storm on the way back from Nobile’s failed flight to the North Pole. Lihr succeeded in rescuing one of the expedition team, a feat which brought considerable publicity in the world’s press for both Lihr and Aero.
The fortunes of Aero looked set to change when in August 1929 Managing Director Bruno Otto Lucander died suddenly. Gunnar Ståhle, one of the original three directors from 1923, took over. The fortunes of the company looked in doubt as there was talk of a sell-out from Aero’s major stake-holder, Junkers. However, Finnish investors stepped in and saved the company. So at the beginning of the 1930’s Aero became an entirely Finnish operation.
The 1930s began in a spirit of Nordic cooperation. Aero and ABA launched the ‘Scandinavian Air Express’. This was done to market both Aero’s and ABA’s routes between Helsinki and Stockholm and Aero’s Helsinki-Tallinn route. Onward flight connections to major European destinations from Stockholm opened up the European market to Aero. Flights to Copenhagen became available as did an Aero operated route to Amsterdam from Stockholm.
The first major passenger carrying aircraft was purchased by Aero in 1932. This was a Junkers Ju 52/3m on floats. This was a three-engined, low-winged large aircraft seating 14 passengers.
Initially the aircraft was restricted to flying in the summer months only as it was on floats. It was quickly fitted with wheels which would enable the aircraft to fly the economically lucrative Helsinki-Stockholm route. The first Ju 52/3 went into service on 1 July 1932. In the period 1932-42, Aero took delivery of five Ju 52/3m aircraft.
On the 8th September 1935 the dream of the Aero Company’s board of directors would be realised with the opening of Finland’s first civil airport at Turku Artukainen. The opening of Stockholm’s first civil airport at Bromma on the 23rd of May 1936 increased the pressure on Helsinki to open its own international hub. Flights began from Malmi in December 1936, although the airport was not opened officially until May 1938.
Aero’s seaplane fleet would be consigned to history with a last seaplane flight from Helsinki Katajanokka to Stockholm Lindarängen on 15 December 1936. After this, the fleet was completely on wheels, and Aero operated at last from solid ground.
Aero expanded its fleet in March 1937 with the purchase of two D.H. 89A Dragon Rapides. The aircraft, a seven passenger, 2 piston-engined bi-plane was purchased with a special purpose in mind; it would take on Finland’s first scheduled domestic service between Helsinki and Viipuri. This service started on the 1st of May 1937. Just two days afterwards the service between Helsinki and Tampere was started. In 1938 the Viipuri route was extended to Imatra and the Tampere route extended to Vaasa. A year later, the northern route was extended as far as Oulu and Kemi.
During the 1930s Aero OY consolidated its existing services extending only its Tallinn route via Riga and Kaunas to Berlin. There were however many plans for international services set to coincide with the 1940 Olympic games due to be held in Helsinki.
To realise these plans, two Focke-Wulf FW 200B Condor Aircraft were ordered by Aero in 1938. The FW 200 was a German all-metal four-engine monoplane originally developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner which resulted from a proposal by Kurt Tank of Focke-Wulf to Dr. Rudolf Stuessel of Deutsche Lufthansa to develop a landplane to carry passengers across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA.
This fitted in with Aero’s plans to develop a transatlantic service in cooperation with other Nordic airlines. The war unfortunately curtailed Aero’s plans for the time being. They never received their Condors as all available aircraft were requisitioned by the Luftwaffe and the Olympic Games due to be held in 1940 in Helsinki never took place.
In 1939 war broke out across Europe. The Russians and Germans invaded Poland; Russia invaded Finland on November 30th 1939 and then Estonia in 1940. The Finns forced the Soviet Union to the negotiating table in March of 1940 ceding up to 10% of its territory in the armistice. The Estonians weren’t so lucky. They were occupied. All available transport aircraft in Finland were requisitioned by the Suomen Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force).
Aero’s Dragon Rapides were requisitioned for use by the 4th Supplementary Flying Regiment. The Junkers 52 transports were put to work on the new Vaasa to Stockholm route as it was deemed too dangerous to operate these vulnerable aircraft out of Helsinki. However the Turku-Stockholm route was still flown on an irregular basis.
The Finnish Air Force would be Finland’s first operator of a commercial airliner with a retractable undercarriage, the Douglas DC-2. The DC-2 was an airliner and transport aircraft of U.S. manufacture. It accommodated three crew and 14 passengers. The first DC-2 baptized “Hanssin-Jukka” achieved almost legendary status as a bomber in the Winter War and later as a personnel transport. Carl Gustaf von Rosen bought the aircraft from KLM and donated it to the Suomen Ilmavoimat. Two additional aircraft were purchased in 1949. The DC-2 was in use until 1955. The Air Force operated three DC-2s from 1940 to 1956.
Of the 3,900 passengers carried during the Winter War, 1,500 were children evacuated to Sweden. On one flight, an Aero 14-seat Junkers Ju 52/3m carried 42 passengers, of whom 26 were children.
Between the Winter War and the Continuation War (13th March 1940 to 25th June 1941), Aero resumed flights to Tallinn on the 2nd April 1940 and to Stockholm two days later. The service to Tallinn was severely disrupted when on June 14 while the world’s attention was focused on the fall of Paris to Nazi Germany a day earlier, one of Aero’s Ju 52 transports was shot down by the Soviet Air Force.
Two Soviet bombers downed one of Aero’s Junkers Ju 52/3m fleet “Kaleva” flying from Tallinn to Helsinki carrying three diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn, Riga and Helsinki and over 120 kilograms of diplomatic mail by two French embassy couriers. A US Foreign Service employee Henry W. Antheil Jr., the French couriers and other passengers were killed in the crash.
On June 17th Estonia fell to the Soviet Union. The occupation was complete by June 21st and Aero’s operations to Tallinn ceased for the duration of the war.
The company instead switched its attention to starting flights to Petsamo in Northern Finland. This service finally began on 2 June 1940. Known as the “Petsamo Express”, it flew passengers from Helsinki to Petsamo via Tampere, Vaasa, Kokkola, Oulu, Kemi, Rovaniemi and Sodankylä in eight and a half hours. In October 1940, Mariehamn was added to the domestic network. The peace between Finland and the Soviet Union would not last.
The Continuation War began on the 22nd of June 1941 and lasted until the 19th September 1944. Throughout this second war between Finland and Soviet Russia, Aero aircraft made a considerable number of transport flights both in Finland and abroad. Despite the war-time conditions, Aero flew to Berlin during 1943 and 1944. Fuel shortages were a problem, but flights to Rovaniemi and Stockholm continued.
During the Continuation War with the Soviet Union, Aero was forced to operate out of Pori on a temporary basis as both Helsinki and Turku airfields had been placed under military control. Aero found once again that its major assets had been requisitioned by the Imavoimat.
When peace finally came Malmi Airfield was placed under the control of the Allied Control Commission (ACC). Aero’s fleet was transferred to Hyvinkää where flights to Stockholm were resumed in January 1945, both direct and via Turku and Mariehamn.
These flights were stopped by order of the ACC. Aero were not able to re-start services until August 1945 and these services were restricted to domestic flights only.
After the war Gunnar Ståhle left his post as managing director of Aero. The board of directors accepted his resignation in December 1945.
Aero was approaching a new era. It was obvious that as long as it remained a private company it would not manage to make the major acquisitions necessary nor cover the rapidly rising operating costs. As a result, the Finnish State acquired a 70% majority holding in the company in 1946. The remaining 30% was held by private companies, the situation remains much the same today.
Gunnar Ståhle was succeeded as Managing Director of Aero first by C.J. Ehrnrooth and then by Uolevi Raade. On 14 June 1947, Lieutenant-General Leonard Grandell was appointed managing director.
Aero’s administration was reorganised. A 12-member Supervisory Board (later increased to 18 members) appointed a six-member Board of Directors, with the Chairman of the Board also serving as the company’s President & CEO.
Aero chose the Douglas DC-3 as its first post war passenger carrying aircraft. The DC-3 was manufactured in vast numbers during World War 2 and hundreds of these were available from US surplus stocks in Europe. Aero began operating the type in May 1947 and began using the name Finnish Airlines on all of its aircraft. The first stewardesses were recruited to fly on the DC-3’s; initially they only flew on the Helsinki-Kemi and Helsinki-Kuopio routes.
The introduction of the DC-3 foresaw the phasing out of Aero’s older assets and led to standardisation of the fleet: in 1947, the last Rapide was sold and the DC-2s were withdrawn from service. Two Ju-52/3m aircraft remained in service until 1949, when they were also retired.
In 1949, Aero became a member of the new IATA (International Air Transport Association), the airline code AY, was re-instated after being withdrawn during the war and is still in use by Finnair today. In 1951 Aero flew from Helsinki to nine domestic and four foreign destinations.
Helsinki finally got it’s Olympic Games in 1952. It was a notable year for Aero with passenger numbers topping 100,000 for the first time. Helsinki Airport was opened in June near Seutula. The official opening took place on 10 July, and by October all flights had been transferred from Malmi to the new airport.
Although Aero converted its original 21-seat DC-3s to carry 26 passengers, aircraft of this type had had their day. In September 1951, Aero ordered three twin-engine Convair 340s from the USA.
The Convair had a modern fuselage, engines and systems. It also featured a pressurised cabin. The aircraft was put into service on 19 April 1953 on the Helsinki-Copenhagen-Dusseldorf route. Initially it carried 44 passengers; the number was later increased to 52. In the period 1953-1964, Aero purchased a total of eight Convair 340s. The Convairs meant that Aero was able to begin scheduled flights between Helsinki and Moscow becoming the first western airline to operate this service.
In spring 1953, Aero started to use the name Finnair in its marketing. This became the company’s official name on 25 June 1968.
Finnair, the flag carrier of Finland was born.
The aircraft depicted are the Revell 1:144 Airbus A320 and the Eduard 1:144 Junkers Ju-52/m transport. Both kits were completed by the editor in July 2017.
The leaders of Sweden and Japan on Sunday demanded that North Korea halts missile tests, and pledged increased cooperation in the U.N. Security Council.
During a visit to Sweden by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven described the tests as a “threat to global peace … and security.”
Abe condemned the April attack in central Stockholm when the driver of a stolen truck killed five pedestrians and injured 14 people. Abe said that Japan and Sweden would work together to combat terrorism.
Both leaders also discussed increasing bilateral trade ties as the two countries prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.
Abe’s visit to Stockholm was the first leg of a Nordic tour, which also takes him to Finland and Denmark.
Mauno Koivisto, who has died aged 93, was Finland’s last Cold War president, serving two six-year terms from 1982 to 1994 and cautiously steering the country out of isolation and into the European Union.
Popularly known as “Manu”, he was once described in the New York Times as a “self-made man who regularly wears darned socks and who conveys the impression of sturdy self-reliance, without the slightest vestige of pomp or show”. He was a great favourite with Finnish voters.
“Finlandisation” was the derogatory term used in the West to describe the country’s Cold War policy of remaining neutral but in reality being highly compliant with the Soviet Union. As a veteran of both the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets and the so-called Continuation War of 1941-44, Koivisto understood as well as any the need for Finland to establish a modus vivendi with her huge, volatile neighbour.
He had had his knuckles rapped in 1968 when, as Finland’s prime minister under the long presidency of Urho Kekkonen, his government had condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, earning a thinly veiled piece of sabre-rattling in the Soviet newspaper Izvestia calling for the establishment of Soviet military bases in Finland against a supposed West German threat. The situation only calmed down after a meeting between Kekkonen and the Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin, followed by a “vacation” trip to Moscow by Koivisto two weeks later.
Under Kekkonen, who had served as Finland’s president from 1956 to 1981, there had been considerable media censorship and limitations on freedom of expression, to the extent that many questioned whether the country could be regarded as a democracy.
Books deemed critical of the Soviets had been banned, along with numerous films including The Manchurian Candidate. Soviet defectors were sent back as a matter of policy; Soviet atrocities were not reported and Finnish nationalist groups were heavily restricted.
A lanky man with a long, craggy face, in his early years as President Koivisto continued the policy of “active neutrality”, including the practice of returning Soviet defectors to the Soviet Union. But at the same time he introduced modest measures of democratisation, refraining from using some of the more authoritarian powers assumed by his predecessor and encouraging parliamentary institutions.
Above all, he charted a new course in foreign policy by cultivating good relations with both East and West, a task made easier by the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in 1985. The two men became close and Koivisto, who was fluent in Russian, helped to broker improved relations between the USSR and the US; in 1990 he hosted a summit meeting between President George HW Bush and the Soviet leader.
The early 1980s were a period of free-market prosperity in Finland, buoyed up by relatively cheap supplies of Soviet energy and the market in eastern Europe for Finnish consumer and industrial goods that would have been difficult to sell in the West.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, however, created huge structural and political problems. In the early 1990s Finnish unemployment soared to about 14 per cent, the economy plunged into recession and the delicate political balancing act with Moscow began to look shaky as the three neighbouring Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, sought to establish their independence and looked to Finland for support. Suddenly caution seemed to be a luxury Finland could ill afford.
Koivisto worked hard to persuade the West of the urgent need of the Soviet Union (and subsequently of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States), for external economic support. While he avoided any public support of the Baltic independence movement, its representatives were allowed to work from inside Finland.
Meanwhile, gambling on his continuing good relations with Russia’s leaders, he began the process of leading Finland out of international isolation. When in 1990, after German reunification, he unilaterally renounced the military clauses of the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on Finnish defence forces, there was no official protest from Moscow.
The following year, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, he renounced the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact, which pledged Finnish military assistance if Russia were attacked from the north and which had hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures. Emboldened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1992 Koivisto initiated the process of Finnish accession to the European Union, the final terms of which were agreed on the day he left office. Finland joined the EU in 1995.
The son of a ship’s carpenter, Mauno Henrik Koivisto was born on November 25 1923, in the southern port city of Turku. At the beginning of the Winter War in 1939 he volunteered aged 16 for a field firefighting unit.
During the Continuation War, he served in a reconnaissance detachment operating behind enemy lines. He was awarded the Order of the Cross of Liberty (2nd class) and was promoted to the rank of corporal.
After the war, Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party and graduated from the University of Turku with a degree in Philosophy and a PhD in Sociology. After graduation he became a banker, rising to become managing director of the Helsinki Workers’ Savings Bank from 1959 to 1967.
By this time he had emerged as a key figure among the Social Democrats and he went on to serve as chairman of the board of the Bank of Finland, a position he retained until 1982 and in which he was widely credited as the architect of the country’s prosperity.
He also served twice as prime minister, from 1968 to 1970 and 1979 to 1982, and despite friction over Czechoslovakia, he succeeded in moving cautiously beyond the limited Finno-Soviet sphere, overseeing Finland’s membership of the OECD in 1969 and participation in UN peacekeeping operations.
He also announced that Finland would play host to the 35-nation European Conference on Security and Cooperation that would lead to the Helsinki accords of 1975. However, he backed off from a proposed Nordic Economic Union with other Scandinavian countries for fear of jeopardising Finland’s neutral status.
In his spare time Koivisto liked playing volleyball, whittling and relaxing in a log cabin outside Helsinki that he had largely built himself.
In 1952 he married Tellervo Kankaanranta, who survives him with their daughter.
Mauno Koivisto, born November 25 1923, died May 12 2017