President Trump has arrived in Helsinki, the Finnish capital where he is due to meet with President Putin on Monday.
But why is Finland playing host to the summit that Trump is going into “with low expectations”?
There are a number of possible explanations.
One of the most straightforward reasons is simply Helsinki’s geographic location. Trump has already been in Europe, attending the NATO summit and visiting the U.K., including meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and the Queen.
Putin, meanwhile, attended the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, which is just an hour’s flight from Helsinki. The city is therefore a convenient meeting place for both leaders.
Finland maintains positive relationships with both the U.S. and Russia, and their leaders. According to Pertti Torstila, a former Finnish diplomat, both Trump and Putin know and have good relationships with Finnish president Sauli Niinistö.
Finland also maintained a neutral political stance throughout the Cold War.
Due to Finland’s neutral stance throughout the second half of the 20th century, it served as host to a number of meetings between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Summits took place in 1975, 1988, and 1990, and even after the fall of the Soviet Union, it played host to meetings in 1992 and 1997.
Significantly, three of these meetings brought together U.S. presidents and Soviet and Russian leaders, which could be a motivating factor for Trump and Putin. The 1975 meeting brought together President Ford and Soviet leader Brezhnev, while President H.W. Bush and Gorbachev met there in 1990, and President Clinton and President Yeltsin came together in Helsinki in 1997.
Nevertheless, the current meeting is proving more contentious than those of years past. Hundreds of protestors took to the street in Helsinki on Sunday, marching against the summit and decrying the actions of both Putin and Trump, with those participating reportedly carrying signs with phrases such as “Putin is a terrorist,” and “Social justice is great, Trump stands for hate.”
It is also worth noting that Finland was once part of Russian territory, becoming an autonomous grand duchy in 1809. It did not gain full independence until more than 100 years later, in 1917.
Despite the historical significance of the meeting location, Trump is already setting the bar low, suggesting only that he thinks “it’s a good thing to meet,” but noting that he is not “going with high expectations.” Russian media, on the other hand, is calling it a “historical meeting of two presidents.”