Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he would not play ice hockey with Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin has suggested it will be no great loss for President Vladimir Putin after his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinisto, said he would not consider playing ice hockey again with the Russian leader.
Speaking to the Italian media outlet la Repubblica this week, Niinisto was asked about a 2012 appearance with Putin on the ice and whether he would ever repeat it.
"No, I wouldn't play anymore," replied the Finnish politician, adding that he did not consider Putin to be a "partner."
Asked on Friday about the comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted the positive impact that sport could have on relations, but suggested that Putin would nonetheless not be missing out.
"Sport, and such team sports as hockey, contribute to the formation of mutual trust. And from this point of view, at one time it was a very good, positive practice at the very beginning of Mr. Niinisto's presidential path," said Peskov.
"Well, now he says he won't play. [But] Putin has no shortage of members for his team... That's why Putin plays hockey and does it regularly," Peskov added.
The Russian president is known as a keen hockey fan and has regularly made appearances in the Night Hockey League in his homeland, which was founded under his initiative in 2011.
Niinisto remarks come as Russian-Finnish relations feature in the headlines after agreement was reached for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Putin responded to the development by saying "we don't have the kind of problems with Sweden and Finland that we unfortunately do with Ukraine.
"We have no territorial disputes, we have nothing that would worry us with regards to Finland and Sweden's NATO memberships. If they want to, let them."
The Russian leader added, however, that "they have to clearly understand that they didn't have any threats before, but now, if military forces and infrastructure are located there, we will be forced to respond tit-for-tat, and create the same threats for the territories we are threatened from."
Hockey has been among the sports to impose sanctions on Russia, after global governing body the IIHF banned Russian and Belarusian teams from competing in its tournaments.
The IIHF also stripped Russia of the 2023 World Junior Championships, as well as the men's 2023 World Championships - the latter of which will now be co-hosted by Finland and Latvia.
Finnish team Jokerit Helsinki previously played in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) but withdrew following the onset of the conflict in Ukraine.
The Finnish Ice Hockey Federation has also said it will ban any Finnish players from the national team if they play at Russian clubs.