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“There are various reasons why Finland was the chosen place: its long history of U.S.-Russia meetings, its foreign policy stance and its geography,” Pertti Torstila, a former Finnish diplomat with more than 40 years of experience, told CNBC over the phone.
Finland hosted summits between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union in 1975, 1988 and 1990. This was mainly because the north European country took a neutral political stance during that period.
Even after that, and as a member of the European Union, Finland kept its role as bridge-builder between the West and the East. It hosted two other summits, in 1992 and 1997 — the latter brought together Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. The meetings addressed security and economic issues.
“Both (presidents) know the host — (and) have good relationships with the Finnish president,” said Torstila, who served as an ambassador and as secretary of state during his 44 years at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visited the White House in the summer of 2017, where Trump thanked Finland’s “steadfast support as an ally in the fight against terrorism.” Niinisto has also reportedly congratulated Putin twice in three days, after the Russian leader’s last presidential win. Russian and Finland share a border of about 807.8 miles in length.
“American diplomats often use Helsinki as a resting place on their way to Moscow to recover from jet lag,” Torstila said, adding that Ronald Reagan did just that in 1988.
Geographically speaking, it also makes sense to meet in Finland, given that Trump will be in Europe for other meetings, including with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and that Putin will be nearby in Moscow.
“Helsinki is only a good hour’s flight from Moscow, where Putin will be watching the final of the World Cup on Sunday,” Torstila said.
“The international scenario isn’t in order… Hopefully, this meeting will help lighting up the horizon,” Torstila said, mentioning several conflicts such as the Syrian War.
However, the Finnish role is somewhat limited. “We have the role of host, giving them the best conditions,” he said. “I am very happy we can provide this.”