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Finnish president visits Olympia in first stop on U.S. tour

March 6, 2023 Updated Mon., March 6, 2023 at 9:10 p.m.

Governor Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee greet Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the steps of the Capitol on Monday.  (Elena Perry/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Governor Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee greet Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the steps of the Capitol on Monday. (Elena Perry/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo
By Elena Perry The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – In a short visit to Olympia on Monday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö expressed his nation’s continuing support for Ukraine, shared more on its recent bid to join NATO and applauded Washington in its efforts to fight climate change.

Niinistö met with Gov. Jay Inslee and addressed a joint session of the Legislature, the first time a foreign head of state has done such an address, according to the governor’s office.

“The current critical geopolitical situation has brought us closer together than ever before. We are now strengthening our ties in sectors such as defense, trade, technology and energy security,” Niinistö said, addressing the joint legislature. “Soon, we will be able to call each other allies.”

Niinistö’s visit is the first stop on a five-day tour across the United States, following the country’s approval to join NATO. Finland and Sweden – two countries that have historically remained out of military conflicts – applied to NATO together almost a year ago, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have pushed back on their admittance.

The Finnish Parliament has approved the proposal to join NATO, and Niinistö said Monday he plans to sign the proposal into law before Parliament’s next election in early April. Finland may soon join, even without Sweden.

Inslee said he supports both nations’ admittance into NATO.

“It empowers us to defend democracy itself. That is what is at stake in the war,” Inslee said. “We believe that (Finland’s) accession into NATO is a very much pro-democracy movement.”

Niinistö and Inslee were both vocal in their support of Ukraine, in light of the recent one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country. Each said the fight in Ukraine is not just important for the country’s independence, but for democracy in general.

“We can’t forget that if an autocratic system would win somewhere, it never stops. After one win, it might be another win,” Niinistö said.

Last year, Finland granted temporary residence permits to approximately 45,000 Ukrainian refugees. Washington welcomed “with open arms” over 16,000 Ukrainian refugees, according to the governor’s office.

“Washington state stands with the people of Finland who have been so courageous and so dedicated to this joint civilized effort to stand for democracy in Ukraine,” Inslee said. “For a relatively small nation, Finland has stepped up to the plate big time.”

Niinistö applauded Washington’s priorities in addressing climate change, calling Finland and Washington state “forerunners” in the global effort.

Inslee visited Finland and other Nordic countries last September to discuss energy, technology, sustainability and climate change. Washington and Finland signed a memorandum of understanding in 2021 to work together on technological research, port modernization, clean energy and sustainable forestry, according to the governor’s office.

Finland aims to be carbon-neutral in 2035, Niinistö said in his speech. Washington State has a similar goal. In alignment with Washington’s cap-and-trade program, passed in 2021, the state intends to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

“Combating climate change is absolutely crucial for the survival of our planet,” Niinistö said. “It also makes economic sense. Global markets for green technologies are growing rapidly and offer tremendous potential for forerunners like us.”

S-R reporter Laurel Demkovich contributed to this report.

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