Upon request of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Laura Lodenius, Director at the Peace Union of Finland, reflects on the major issues and consequences of the Trump-Putin Summit on 16 July 2018 in Helsinki:

The US President Donald Trump and the Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki on 16 July 2018, just four days after the NATO Summit in Brussels Trump was also attending.
The detailed agenda for the Trump-Putin Summit was not revealed before the meeting, but also after the summit, it remained unclear what really had been discussed. Many felt that the meeting could signal a step back from the conflict between Russia and the West, and of possibility for a dialogue. At the same time, people were afraid that some kind of an old time deal between the superpowers or the leaders of the US and Russia might be achieved, without involvement of EU member states and smaller countries.
The press conference and the publicity in mainstream media were mostly moving around the issue of Russia’s possible influence on the US elections and support to the Trump campaign. Human rights, nuclear disarmament, arms control and many other issues were almost completely left out. As regards Crimea, Vladimir Putin pointed out that Donald Trump continued to maintain that the annexation of Crimea was illegal, but the Russian President disagreed with his counterpart. ‘We held a referendum in strict compliance with the UN charter and international legislation. For us, the case is closed,’ said Putin.
Large demonstrations organised by NGOs were happening in connection to the NATO Summit and the Trump visit to Europe. There was also a variety of demonstrations during the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki.
Some of them were referring to specific human rights issues like the call for release of the Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who has been detained in the North of Russia since 2014 and went on hunger strike over two months ago, or a Finnish and US PEN event as a reminder of imprisoned writers all over the world. Others were demonstrating in favour of Putin or Trump, but these were small actions of rather marginal groups.
The largest demonstrations by citizen movements took place on Sunday, 15 July 2018, accompanied by a #HelsinkiCalling / #WeCare social media campaign for human rights, equality, peace and against racism, a joint effort of non-governmental organisations and activists. The next day people went to the streets under the slogan ”Helsinki against Putin and Trump” showing their attitude to the politics of both presidents inside their countries and on a global scale. These actions on both days gathered some 2,500 demonstrators in the city centre of Helsinki warmed up to over 30 degrees Celcius.
The demonstrators were calling for peace, human rights, including refugee and LGBTIQ rights, as well as nuclear disarmament. After the summit, the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö referred to the demonstrators in a positive sense and admitted that they had helped to deliver the right message to the presidents of the US and Russia.
Finland – A Land of Free Press?
Paradoxically, the Trump-Putin Summit raised much more questions about the obedience to the fundamental freedoms worldwide, not only in Russia or the US.
The press conference after the summit might have been more substantial, if Sam Husseini, an op-ed writer for “The Nation” Magazine, Communications Director at the US-based Institute for Public Accuracy, had asked his question on nuclear disarmament. His idea was to get attention by lifting up a sign: ‘Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty’.
Instead, Husseini was removed from the press briefing beforehand. He was not allowed to access his phone or other possessions. What is more, when he shouted: ‘This is freedom of press in Finland!’, he reportedly had been tackled to the ground by police officers, his legs and hands had been cuffed and he had been detained until late night.
Ahead of the summit in Helsinki, “Helsingin Sanomat”, the most prominent Finnish newspaper, organised a large-scale campaign with massive signs around the city, which said: ‘Welcome to the land of free press’. That certainly was the right message to both presidents, but it did not help Mr Husseini, when he tried to practice critical journalism in Finland.