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Finland’s Niinisto to Putin: sanctions bite both, let’s discuss Ukraine

(Reuters) – Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday that Western sanctions against Moscow and the food ban Russia introduced in response were damaging bilateral ties and proposed to seek ways to end the Ukraine crisis.

Finland is one of the EU states hardest hit by trade embargoes that Moscow has imposed in retaliation for EU sanctions, yet it does not want to be seen as a weak link in the European front to pressure Putin over Ukraine.

“The catastrophe that happened in Ukraine is of course reflecting on all of us, affecting us all, and it has much broader implications than (just) local consequences,” he told Putin through a translator in his Black Sea residence.

“The traditional relations between Russia and Finland have taken a toll as a result of these events.”

Putin echoed his remarks, saying mutual trade dropped 8 percent lately due to a number of factors which included East-West political tensions, but made no mention of the Ukraine crisis in his welcome remarks.

Niinisto said he wanted to seek possibilities to ease the Ukraine crisis at talks with Putin.

“I would therefore want to talk to you about the opportunities to resolve the Ukraine (crisis), to stop the negative string of events and contribute to stabilisation, because all of that indeed affects all of us,” he said.

European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the region’s response to major crises including the conflict in Ukraine.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on individual Russians and the energy, finance and defence sectors to punish Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and what Western governments say is its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia denies arming the rebels or orchestrating the conflict. It says the authorities in Kiev, with backing from the West, are inflicting a humanitarian crisis on the mainly Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine.

Russian-Finnish trade fell by 8 percent to $8.3 billion in the first half of 2014, according to a Kremlin fact sheet distributed ahead of the meeting.

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