On Monday, Finland's capital will become the venue for talks between the U.S. and Russian leaders for the fourth time since the first American-Soviet summit in Helsinki.
It was August 1975 when Moscow, represented not by Russian, but senior Soviet officials led by the general secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee, Leonid Brezhnev, met with an American delegation led by the 38th U.S. president, Gerald Ford.
The so-called Helsinki Accords, resulting in the recognition of post-war European borders, saw the signing of non-binding agreements in which 35 states, including the United States, Canada, and all European states except Albania and Andorra, attempted to improve relations between communists and the West, marking the start of a process called Detente.
Fifteen years later, on September 9, 1990, the 41st U.S. president, George H. W. Bush, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met in the Finnish capital to focus on events in the Persian Gulf. This second meeting, wrote Soviet diplomat Alexander Belonogov, demonstrated in every possible way a high degree of agreement" which was largely unprecedented.
It was on March 21, 1997, that U.S. and Russian presidents, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, held negotiations in Helsinki amid a more subdued atmosphere.
"American helicopters circled above the city center, and at all the events there was equipment brought in from the United States," said Helsinki-based Nikolai Meinert, was among the journalists covering the event. "Of course the attention of local media was great, but there were practically no memorabilia: no flags, no portraits, streets were not blocked off when Clinton and Yeltsin arrived," he told VOA.
"Yeltsin was not in very good physical condition after the summer 1996 elections and ensuing heart surgery, he added, explaining that Yeltsin's physical restrictions made Helsinki a convenient venue, its distinguished contemporary diplomatic history notwithstanding.
Clinton, too, found himself briefly handicapped when he broke his leg just before the summit, relegating him to a wheelchair and forcing him to cancel a solo saxophone performance he'd been invited to give at Helsinki's "Cotton Club, a jazz venue located in the Swedish Theater building on Boulevard Esplanadi.
Russia ultimately agreed to have former socialist nations arrange NATO accession in exchange for an invitation to become a member of the G-8.
"The situation is different now than in 1997, and even more so than in 1990," says Jussi Lassila, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Relations who has monitored summits since the late '80s.
Bilateral ties fraught by disagreements over the status of Crimea and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Lassila suggested, give Helsinki President Sauli Niinisto a new chance to showcase his capital city as a prime venue for resolving tough diplomatic issues.
Part of Helsinki's continued appeal to U.S. officials, says Arkady Moshes, senior researcher and head of the Russia and EU Program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, is Finland's unique standing with both Washington and Moscow.
"The choice is due to the fact that the United States does not currently perceive Finland as a country that might be predisposed towards Russia," he said. "The United States treats Finland as a country that has equal, pragmatic and beneficial relations with both Washington and Moscow.
"Directly or indirectly, this is a success for Finnish foreign policy," said Moshes, who interprets to the upcoming meetings as an attempt to quell U.S.-Russian diplomatic confrontation.
"Finland is a member of the European Union, and, in general, the European Union, in spite of everything, makes a number of decisions in the field of security," he said.
"Today, Finland makes it very clear it still wants to be at the heart of the European Union," particularly as a primary venues for addressing some of the toughest diplomatic issues on the planet.
Source: Voice of America