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News, 8/23/2017

Speech by former Ambassador Reinilä at the Reception of the 25th anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations with Eastern European and Central Asian countries

Speech by former Ambassador Laura Reinilä at the Reception of the 25th anniversary of the Diplomatic Relations with Eastern European and Central Asian countries, Helsinki 23 August 2017.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some of my memories as a desk officer in the Political department covering the Soviet Union in 1991 and the 12 new states that emerged from it in the following years.

First of all, I would like to confess that the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was quite a surprise to the Finnish authorities. Although declarations on the independence had been given in Soviet Republics, it took some time before we realized that an era was really coming to its final end.

It was on the December 22 in 1991 that the Soviet Ambassador told Mr. Paavo Väyrynen, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of that time, that the Soviet Foreign Office had seized to exist. Mr. Väyrynen, quick in reactions, asked: "What is it called then". The answer was: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Soviet Socialist Federation." When accompanying the Ambassador as the note taker, I took the liberty of commenting him:  "You cannot call it like that ".  Later the country name was shortened to that of the Russian Federation.

After the collapse, the main Finnish concern was to quickly recognize the newly born Russia and to establish diplomatic relations in order to assure the smooth transition of the relations with the neighbour. This was done before the end of 1991 and the Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Burbulis paid a visit to Helsinki in January 1992 and signed the new basic agreement with Finland.

But what about the rest 11 newly emerged states?  What kind of relations to create and how? Our answer was simple: we would recognize them all and  establish full diplomatic relations.  This was easier said than done.  In the media we could follow the quick visits of German and British Ministers of Foreign Affairs, who flew from one new capital to another establishing diplomatic relations.  As a small country, we did not have such a possibility.

However, we were in a hurry.  Mr. Genscher, the German Minister had proposed to invite all the new states to the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to its Summit in July 1992 in Helsinki. For us, it was impossible to think of hosting a major political meeting without having relations with all its 52 participants. Besides it had been agreed that the CSCE Foreign Ministers would meet in Helsinki already in March.

Notes on recognition of the new states and proposals on creating diplomatic relations were sent to the Foreign Ministers of the new independent states.  Fortunately, all of them had had some form of Foreign Ministries already during the Soviet times to look after the foreign delegations during their visits to the Soviet republics.

Hosting the CSCE meetings in 1992 gave another specific task for Finnish Foreign Ministry.  As a depositor of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, it was our interest to get the new states to sign it before the Summit.  The first signing ceremony was arranged in February, when Mr. Mauno Koivisto, President of the Republic, invited the Heads of State of Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan to Helsinki.

The choice of the countries followed a certain logics: let us invite first the three new European states geographically closest to us and one Central Asian state. Uzbekistan had the biggest population in the region. To our great surprise, even a fifth Head of State arrived in Finland. Mr. Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, had taken along in his plane to Helsinki also the Tajik president, Mr. Nabiyev. We signed documents for diplomatic relations first with these five countries.

In March, Minister Väyrynen got good opportunities to meet with his CIS counterparts during the CSCE Ministerial meeting and more diplomatic relations were established.

There were other practical questions to solve in spring before the Summit.  How to call the new states in Finnish, how to arrange representations to them, what kind of economic and other cooperation to start? We had thought that there existed a country that could be called “Gruusia” in Finnish as it had been the name used in Soviet times. The Georgian authorities taught us, however, that the name would be “Georgia”. Fortunately, the media learnt the name immediately. Among the Central Asian Republics, it was preferred to use the historical Finnish version to the Kyrgyz Republic, that is “Kirgisia”.

Where to open diplomatic missions? To start with, it was decided to open an Embassy in Kyiv in April with accreditation to Moldavia (as Moldova was called that time).  As our Ambassador in Lithuania had excellent Russian knowledge, we asked for him an accreditation to the neighbouring Belarus. These arrangements facilitated the working visits of the President of the Republic to Kyiv and Minsk in May 1992. In autumn the same year, similar visits were made to Central Asian States where Finland had nominated a Roving Ambassador. Later a Roving Ambassador was nominated also to the Caucasian countries. In 2009 an Embassy was opened in Astana.

Diplomatic delegations were sent to the new States to explore the common interests. Draft agreements on protection of investments were handed over to our new partners. Written material on the CSCE was brought to capitals who were asked to send representatives to the training course in Helsinki in spring 1992.

A Russian diplomat came to see me in April 1992 in order to ask: what are you going to do with the new countries? It was easy to answer:  we have recognized them, we are to have diplomatic relations with all of them and we will have direct ties with them either through our Embassies or Roving Ambassadors based in Helsinki.

We Finns wished to establish normal, good state-to-state relations with our new partners based on mutual respect as quickly as possible.  I hope that the basis laid in the first months of 1992 has proved to be satisfying. Since then it has been a pleasure to follow the development of our bilateral relations. I wish that these relations will continue to flourish and bring success to the benefit of all our nations.

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