Archive and Chronology of Finnish Foreign Policy

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the dinner for the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki on 11 May 2023

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you all to the Presidential Palace today. This dinner is a time-honoured tradition, bringing together the heads of mission accredited to Finland, from all continents. A celebration of diplomacy, a moment to cherish the importance of the relations between all of our countries. And an annual tradition, in normal times.

Yet four years have passed since we last met. In the rotation of diplomatic life, four years is a long time. Only a handful of you were present here in May 2019. Most of you are attending this gathering for the first time.

Such a long pause is symbolic of the exceptional times we live in. Very concretely, it was of course the pandemic that forced us all to break habits and traditions, including this one. Much of what was normal was suddenly pushed aside. Faced with something inconceivable, we found ourselves to be capable of things that would have been unimaginable just a moment earlier.

In fact, amid all the human suffering that Covid-19 brought about, there was also a glimmer of hope. Such a global tragedy, such a universally shared experience, had a lot of potential to bring us together. A potential that could resonate beyond the response to the pandemic, spilling over also to the ways in which we address our common challenges.

To help us seek common solutions that unite us, rather than revert to spheres of influence that divide us.

Unfortunately, that hope has rapidly faded away. We are living in a world of growing tensions. A world of deepening divisions. An increasingly dangerous world for us all.

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In Europe, we have again been faced with something inconceivable for over one year now. The return of a full-scale war on our continent.

But it has also brought us more together. In Europe and with many of our partners worldwide, we are doing things that would earlier have seemed unimaginable – in the nature and volume of our military and non-military assistance to Ukraine. This support of ours, as Ukraine fights for its freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity, remains unwavering, for as long as needed.

It is obvious that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are the main victims of this war. Their human suffering is unbearable and needs to stop. But beyond Ukraine’s borders, we should be better in understanding that there are also other problems. As intangible as they may seem, they affect all of us.

This war severely violates the  international law, and the whole international rules-based order. Those carefully built common structures, principles and agreements that are there to protect each and every one of us from the threat or use of force.

This is not just a regional issue or a Western concern. This is a global tragedy. One that should unite us, not divide us.

Ukraine deserves broad international support for its rightful self-defence on the battlefield. But in parallel, it also deserves broad international support for its search for a sustainable way out of the war. A just peace can only be one that is acceptable to Ukraine, at a moment that is acceptable for Ukraine.

Under those terms, we must already now have the courage to speak about peace, too. Not about Ukraine, not without Ukraine. But with Ukraine.

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From the global perspective, the war in Ukraine is just one example of the myriad of tragedies and threats we face. Devastating wars are waged elsewhere, too, and many lower-intensity conflicts continue to simmer across the world. Climate change and biodiversity loss are advancing at an increasingly dangerous pace. Extreme poverty is far from eradicated, and inflation and the rise in the cost of living affect even the most affluent countries. Rapidly emerging food and energy crises do not respect national borders.

The tasks ahead of us, our entire global community, are daunting. Achieving unity at a time of divisions. Defending international institutions at a time of fierce geopolitical competition. Striving for a just peace at a time of war.

These are all tall orders. None of them will happen automatically on their own. They require a genuine willingness from us to engage with each other. Not just with those who already share the same views. But above all with those who see the world in a different way.

The profession that you all represent gives us the glimmer of hope that our planet, and every nation, sorely needs. In these exceptional times, we need more diplomacy, not less. Talking to each other, listening to each other. Creating mutual trust and respect. Seeking common ground, seeking common solutions. Making the world safer for all of us. I sincerely believe that if diplomacy succeeds in one area, it can resonate further, with a positive spill-over effect on other issues, too.

* * *

I want to sincerely thank you all for the valuable work that you do. I would like to propose a toast to the relations between our countries, and to diplomacy.