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Finland's president addresses WA Legislature on historic first stop of U.S. visit

The president of Finland shakes hands with Washington's governor in the State Reception Room in the Capitol, with the flags of the United States, Washington and Finland in the background.
Jeanie Lindsay
Finland's president, Sauli Niinistö, met with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on the first day of a weeklong visit to the United States Monday.

The president of Finland kicked off a five-day visit to the U.S. with a stop in Washington's capital Monday, where he made history as the first foreign head of state to address the State Legislature.

Finland's president Sauli Niinistö was greeted by the Finnish Choral Society of Seattle and Gov. Jay Inslee as he arrived at the Capitol in Olympia. A group of lawmakers then escorted him into the Senate chamber for his remarks.

In his address, Niinistö thanked Americans for supporting his country's pending NATO application and the people of Ukraine more than one year after Russia's invasion.

"The Ukrainians have the right to live in peace and independence in their own country," he said, followed by applause from the audience.

Niinistö spent much of his time in the capitol discussing the global ripple effects of Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

"We can't forget that if an autocratic system would win somewhere, it never stops," he said. He noted that Russia's attempts to discourage expansion of NATO ultimately played a role in Finland seeking formal membership.

Inslee and Niinistö also highlighted Washington's ongoing relationship with Finland during the visit, pointing to it as an example of partnerships that can help address other global crises, like climate change.

It comes after Finland and Washington entered into an agreement in 2021 to share information on things like clean energy, technology and transportation, and following a visit Inslee made to the Nordic nation last year.

Jeanie Lindsay is a radio reporter based in Olympia who covers the Washington state government beat for the Northwest News Network, the Pacific Northwest's regional collaboration of NPR stations.