Finnish president: Summit put Putin on an 'even footing' with Trump

Niinist holds separate meetings with both men

By JAMES MASTERS, CNN
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.

HELSINKI (CNN) - The Helsinki summit allowed Russia's President Putin to stand on an "even footing" with US counterpart Donald Trump, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told CNN Monday.

In an exclusive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Niinistö, who held separate meetings with both men in the Finnish capital, welcomed the dialogue between the two nations.

But he warned that Putin would leave Helsinki carrying "a kind of burden" with questions still looming over Russia's actions in Ukraine, Crimea and the ongoing sanctions imposed on Moscow by the US and European Union.

"I think for him it was important to be on an even footing with the American President," Niinistö said.

"But actually, he also left with a kind of burden. Those big issues, if they continue, they should also be solved somehow and Russia has many questions."

Niinistö refrained from commenting on the afternoon's press conference in which Trump, standing beside Putin, delivered an astonishing rebuke of the US intelligence community as he declined to endorse his government's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Instead, Niinistö preferred to concentrate on his meeting with Trump, and the American President's position on NATO.

While Finland, which shares a border with Russia, is not a full member of NATO, it does enjoy a partnership with the organization.

Finland joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in 1994 and became a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997 and remains a keen observer of Trump's plans for the organization.

Trump was once again outspoken in his criticism of member nations not fulfilling the demand of meeting the 2% spending target during last week's NATO summit in Brussels.

"I wanted to talk about those fears that they have over Europe and Finland, speculation what he's going to do with NATO military exercises or something like that," Niinistö added. "Now, I can say, that those fears weren't at the table. No fears actually came to truth.

"President Trump said after the Brussels meeting that he's now satisfied.

"To some extent I understand the demand of meeting what has been agreed, that is 2% of your GDP. It's not only President Trump who has demanded that, it has been ongoing from the 1950s but he has put a bit more spin on it."

Copyright 2018 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.