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Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen at the 2023 Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Publication date 21.8.2023 9.55

A new era has begun in Finland's foreign and security policy. NATO membership will strengthen not only our security, but also the stability of Northern Europe. Finland's strong defence capability and resilience will strengthen the whole Alliance, says Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen in her speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission.

Distinguished Ambassadors, colleagues at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and those watching the broadcast,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of Heads of Mission in Helsinki, the capital of a new NATO country. 

It is wonderful to meet you all face to face. You with the rest of the public officials at the Foreign Ministry work hard every day to make a brighter future for Finland and all those living here. 

Some of you work in exceptionally challenging circumstances. I would like to thank those in Kyiv, Moscow, St Petersburg and Bagdad, along with all the ambassadors and embassies, for your service. I am also grateful for the help, support and knowledge I have personally received over the past few weeks.

Before I had served as a minister for two days, I had already visited Stockholm and Tallinn. Those visits, and the important contribution of the discussions we had, would not have been possible without a committed and exceptionally professional Foreign Ministry staff. We are all carrying out this work together.

Dear friends, 

Four years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the Financial Times. In that interview, a power-crazed Putin declared that the “liberal idea” had outlived its purpose.

According to him, liberal Western countries had weakened and could no longer dictate anything to anyone as they had been attempting to do. 

This was in the aftermath of the European refugee crisis. Russia was feeling strong. China was getting stronger, fast. 

Some in the West may have feared that Putin was right. Perhaps the Western way of life based on individual freedoms was really being overtaken by authoritarian systems?

But look at what happened next.

By attacking Ukraine, Russia committed a monumental strategic error. It underestimated both Ukrainians' will to defend their country and the determination of Western countries to stand with Ukraine. 

As the war continues, we cannot know what lies ahead.

What we do know is that Ukraine is and will remain an independent state. We also know that Western countries are more united than they have ever been.

By contrast, Russia is isolated and will inevitably begin to feel the serious effects of economic sanctions. Putin has been issued with an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.

And Finland has joined NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – and so will Sweden. 

That is why I put it to you that liberal democracy – an approach that emphasises civil liberties, the right of peoples to self-determination, and international law – is now stronger than it has been for a long time. 

The credit for this goes to the heroic Ukrainian people who have defended their freedom – and us – against a brutal aggressor. 

This cruel, illegitimate war has, in all its wickedness, breathed new life into the efforts of those defending freedom. It is our job to seize this opportunity and do everything in our power to further reinforce the position of liberal democracy in the world. And by “we” I mean every one of us in this hall and in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, both in Helsinki and in foreign missions.

Dear friends,

A new era has begun in Finland's foreign and security policy. While we have not been neutral for a long time, as a result of NATO membership, Finland has become a militarily allied country. Let's stop to consider that for a moment.

NATO membership will strengthen not only our security, but also the stability of Northern Europe and the European security architecture. Finland's strong defence capability and resilience will strengthen the whole Alliance. 

Membership will bring us closer to the transatlantic security community. NATO membership means that Finland has joined the Western nations without any reservations. As a member, we are prepared to support other NATO countries in accordance with our obligations, both in receiving and providing assistance. Finland will fully participate in all NATO activities.

But our membership in NATO will not be complete without Sweden. We will therefore do everything in our power to ensure that Sweden joins NATO as soon as possible. 

Finland supports the NATO open door policy, and we will work with the allies to promote Ukraine’s prospects of joining NATO.

Finland wants to lead by example and encourage European countries to invest more in their own defence. Europe must take more responsibility for its own security – together with our American allies.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s Government is committed to spending at least two per cent of Finland’s GDP on defence during this government term, in accordance with NATO’s guideline. I think it will be very important to maintain the two per cent level also during the next government terms.

Safeguarding Finland's independence and territorial integrity is the foundation for everything we do, but Finland also has other goals in the world.

The rule of law, human rights, equality and democracy are the cornerstones of our action abroad. We will also do our part in encouraging the countries in the Global South to commit to a rules-based order, democracy and the promotion of human rights. 

Finland's economy – and with it our entire welfare model – is highly dependent on international trade and foreign investments. Finland needs to keep promoting freedom in the international economy so that our excellent businesses can enter markets where there is demand for their products and services. 

At the same time, we can increase our climate handprint around the world. Innovative clean solutions from Finland can help other nations replace polluting energy systems and economies based on raw materials. Even with a war going on in Europe, we cannot give up the fight against climate change.

New disruptive technologies will bring unprecedented opportunities but also challenges. Artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, quantum technologies, wider utilisation of space and so many other developments are a great resource for humanity in the right hands. But in the wrong hands, without shared rules, they can become harmful, even dangerous. We Finns have a lot to contribute to the development and responsible management of such technologies.

For all this, Finland will need reliable partners. We need to proactively forge partnerships and that, too, involves the work we carry out at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 


Sweden remains Finland’s closest partner. NATO membership will open up opportunities for closer cooperation with the other Nordic countries as well as with Estonia and the other Baltic States. 

The United States is a key strategic partner and ally for Finland. We will develop this relationship on a broad front.

With the support of Parliament, we aim to conclude the defence cooperation agreement negotiations with the United States as soon as possible. In addition to defence and trade, we will include cooperation in disruptive technologies in the core of our relationship. Finland wants to see cooperation between the EU and the United States that is as close and effective as possible. The United States is already one of our most important export destinations.

As competition between the superpowers intensifies, the Western countries must maintain even closer ties with each other. In trade policy, we do not need protective walls across the Atlantic, and certainly not within Europe. In addition to strategic autonomy, Finland promotes Europe's strategic competitiveness.

Of the European countries, I would like to highlight Britain, which is an important security partner for us and an ally in defending free trade and democracy. 

The strengthening of China's global role poses a challenge to Finland and Europe. That is why we need to intensify our cooperation with like-minded partners: Australia, South Korea and Japan. 

At the same time, China is an important trading partner for Finland. While we continue to carry on and develop fair, rules-based trade, we must limit our strategic dependencies on China. Risks, especially across critical supply chains, must be reduced. We will promote this both nationally and at the EU level. In practice, this also involves risk management in individual companies.

The further we look to the future, the more difficult it is to distinguish security from the economy and technology. Meanwhile, long-term competitiveness will not be built by introducing protective measures, but by investing in people, progress and everyone's chances of creating prosperity. We need more cross-border exchange between friendly countries and, if the other party does not share our value base and agreements, a risk management strategy. 

The success and future growth of Finland and the rest of Europe are based on the work of skilled and creative people, enterprise-based risk-taking, high-quality scientific research, commercial innovations and free movement of people, goods, services, capital and ideas. This is a recipe that has served Europe well before.

What about our relations with Russia? 

Russia's actions have broken our earlier bilateral relationship, which no longer exists at the political level. Naturally, it is important that we maintain both diplomatic relations and operational links, for example in border security. 

Finland’s objective is to get Russia end its war in Ukraine and, together with partners, to repel Russia’s destabilising aspirations on the one hand and prepare for several alternative futures on the other. Wagner's midsummer mutiny showed that we must be ready for sudden and unexpected changes. We must also be prepared for the war to continue for some considerable time.

Russia must be held liable for its war of aggression, for the crimes it has committed in breach of international law during the invasion, and for the damage the war has caused. We need to find an international, legally valid solution to seize Russian assets, so that at least the profits can be used for Ukraine's benefit.

Some think that the West should not provoke Russia. I agree; this has never been Finland's policy. However, it does not follow that we should accept the story as Russia tells it. Russia alone bears the responsibility; a fact that any number of alternative truths will not change. Like other Western countries, Finland operates within the framework of international law and cannot cause or justify escalation. We have done nothing to justify Russia's brutal actions. Only Russia can be held accountable for them.

Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative is a sad example of this. By destroying Ukraine's grain terminals, denying sea transport and consciously raising prices, Russia has harnessed food as a weapon against the rest of the world. Russia is disrupting world trade and causing despair especially in areas where many people are starving.

Together with the UN and like-minded countries, Finland is prepared to explore ways to secure grain transports by land and sea. The EU-Ukraine solidarity lanes must be expanded and NATO's presence in the Black Sea increased. We also need to find means to prevent Russia from benefiting financially from the chaos it has caused.

Sanctions must be reinforced and their implementation intensified. The price ceiling for Russian crude oil has been an effective countermeasure, and the rouble is now at its weakest since the start of the war. Ordinary Russians are now feeling the effects of weak rouble in their pockets and in their daily life, which hopefully shows the folly of war for the Russians.


The foreign and security policy of this new era, along with its implementation, will require new kinds of structures to support it. The organisation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has essentially remained unchanged since 1998.

A lot has happened in 25 years, and these changes should also be reflected in the Foreign Service. However, change in itself is not of essence, and we should be careful not to break something that works. For example, the additional obligations arising from NATO membership require us to adapt to the new circumstances and adopt new practices.

I will carry out a reform of the Foreign Service, the objective of which is to focus on Finland’s foreign and security policy interests, the promotion of economic growth, international economic relations and technological development. In connection with the reform, we will evaluate the management of multilateral matters in the Foreign Service.

We will concentrate resources and investments on countries that are strategically important to Finland. This will apply to the network of Finnish missions, economic relations, security cooperation and development cooperation. Decisions on the size of the network of missions will be made systematically over the long term. We will seek practical common solutions with the missions of other Nordic countries and EU Member States.

As an employer, I want the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to invest in diversity, valuing of experience and competence, and individual development. Gender is only one of the Service’s characteristics, but I raise it as an example: 80 per cent of the senior public officials at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs are men, although 61 per cent of diplomats are women. I am sure that these statistics will change in the next few years to better reflect our wide range of talent.

Dear friends,

During the weekend, we witnessed yet another disastrous and reprehensible attack on civilians when a Russian missile strike hit the city centre of Chernihiv during a festival.

This morning, brave Ukraine has again defended itself against Russia's blind violence, keeping up the fight for a free civil society. Ukraine is fighting for life, hunger for life, and a European way of life. Ukraine is fighting for us, and Finland continues to stand with Ukraine.

With a war on the continent of Europe, we may forget the fact that for centuries humankind has been moving towards a more peaceful, prosperous and equal future. There is no reason to assume that this long development trend could not continue. 

Putin's interview four years ago revealed a grave misunderstanding. Because liberal democracies do not dictate anyone anything. Instead, their success is based on people's voluntary participation. And if people are given a choice, they will choose freedom.

The West has never been as united as it is now. There is a waiting list for NATO and the EU. NATO does not in itself expand; it takes on new members on a voluntary basis when people in democratic countries make their choice. NATO poses no threat to anyone, and meanwhile the EU has consistently carried out its mission of creating prosperity and peace.

The liberal world order may have its moments of crisis. But that does not make us poison political opponents, attack a sovereign country, bomb passenger planes, fake elections, and threaten our own citizens with violence. 

In a liberal democracy, people are free and the future is a continuum that everyone can influence through their own actions. It develops day by day; sometimes also through errors and difficulties. 

As former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said:

“The ultimate failures of dictatorships cost humanity far more than any temporary failures of democracy.” 

Open societies are attractive because they do not suppress people, but offer them opportunities – more every day. We would like to see such a future for everyone, not only for Russians, but also for the people of Belarus, who voted for it three years ago. 

We should become an example to others, holding high the beacon of hope. In Finland, we know what we are talking about. And more than ever, we need to have trust in our values. Let us cherish diversity, fundamental rights and progress to the last. 

Let us work to make Finland a country which attracts people from near and far; to work, to found a family, to set up a business, and to fulfil the dreams that every person has for their life.

Thank you, have a great meeting, and again – it is wonderful to see you here.