Speech by Minister Soini at the Reception of the 25th anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations with Eastern European and Central Asian countries

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini at the Reception of the 25th anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations with Eastern European and Central Asian countries, Helsinki 23 August 2017.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. This year Finland is celebrating also another important anniversary, 100 years of our independence. Based on our history, we know that building a path to an independent, democrat and prosperous country requires hard work. For me personally, it has been an honor to learn to know colleagues in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We enjoy excellent bilateral relations, based on mutual respect and friendship.

The world looked very different 25 years ago. In December 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, which came as a surprise for many of us. It was difficult to understand that the cold war was over, and a fundamental change in the European security architecture had taken place.

After the collapse, the Finnish government decided to recognize all 11 newly independent countries and establish diplomatic relations with them as soon as possible. We were in a hurry to proceed, as we were preparing for the OSCE Summit in Helsinki in July 1992. As a depositor of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, it was in our interest to get the new states to sign this Act at the latest in the Summit. Ambassador, Mrs. Laura Reinilä will later describe her own experience from this critical year.

Today the security situation in our continent is more worrying than it has been since the end of the cold war. We all know the reasons for this. The problems in the relations between Russia and the West have thrown European security out of balance. We have to defend the core principles of European security and international law, and respect the territorial integrity of all countries. For this reason, Finland and the rest of the EU see no grounds to ease the sanctions currently imposed on Russia, given that there has been no progress in implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

However, security is much more than military security. Sustainable security begins with education, economic opportunities and equality. It is my firm believe that genuine security cannot exist without rule of law, strong institutions, transparency, and respect for human rights. These issues are also key priorities in EU's Eastern Partnership and Central Asian policies. These policies are based on values, mutual interests and sustained reform processes.

Finland is committed to support reform processes in Eastern Europe and Central Asia both bilaterally, through the EU and international organizations. We are firmly committed strengthening the international organizations, above all the UN and the OSCE. Finnish monitors make up, for example, a significant part of the OSCE monitors in Ukraine (risking their lives to report on the continued ceasefire violations.) Finland also has a large monitor contingent in the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia and since 1990’ies we are a member of the Minsk Group supporting negotiations for Nagorno-Karabakh peace settlement.

In addition, cooperation with the United States, both bilaterally and as a partner for peace of NATO, is important for us and something we aim to intensify. The new stage of NATO cooperation in the so called 29+2 -format is an important element in our efforts to enhance security in the Baltic region. With Sweden we have successfully deepened our NATO cooperation.

Bilaterally Finland is interested in closer cooperation with you in several sectors, including trade, education, environmental issues and energy efficiency. Our bilateral trade in the region is still modest, but I see new perspectives. For instance the high-light of this summer, Astana Expo, shows that growing number of Finnish companies are searching new markets in the East.

With these remarks I want to congratulate all parties for the 25 years of diplomatic relations between Finland and your diverse and unique countries. Please accept my wishes for the success, good health and prosperous future of the people of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.