Finnish President, Swedish King Leave Islands Amid Russian Navy Drill

The heads of state of Finland and Sweden left a ceremony in the demilitarized Finnish region of Åland, sparking speculation over whether the hasty departure was linked to Russian Navy drills in the region.

Representatives from both Nordic governments joined Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden to mark the 100th anniversary of the autonomy of the Swedish-speaking islands of Finland on Thursday located at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia.

The celebrations included a concert and a visit to the ruins of Bomarsund fortress and Kastelholm Castle northeast of the capital Mariehamn, Finnish newspaper Ilta Sanomat reported.

But the paper reported that Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio left to fly home in the middle of the festivities. The Swedish royal couple also left during the concert.

The exact reason for the shortening of the trip is unknown although Ilta Sanomat reported that guests had been warned their Finnish host may have to leave suddenly.

"Extraordinary: Finnish president abruptly interrupted his visit to Åland 100yrs autonomy celebrations and flew back to mainland, now also Swedish king + queen exited mid concert and left," tweeted Aki Heikkinen.

His message was shared by journalist Petri Mäkelä, who wrote, "Extremely strange thing to happen. Nothing in the public awareness explains why both heads of state left this event in a hurry."

Sources in Sweden said the departure time of the king had been pre-planned and Newsweek has contacted Sweden's royal court and the Finnish government for comment.

However, it came as the Russian Baltic Fleet conducted drills in the region and a veiled threat was made by President Vladimir Putin as tensions over the Nordic countries' NATO membership bids continue to rise.

Russia's Defense Ministry said 60 ships and 40 aircraft took part in the maneuvers on Thursday which will also take place on land at training grounds in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

"Looks like Russian Baltic Fleet Zubr-class LCACs and some corvettes deployed out from Baltiysk, Kaliningrad, today," tweeted Mäkelä. "May explain why Finnish and Swedish heads of state were evacuated from the demilitarized Åland, that have no defenders at the moment."

Also in the region, the Swedish coast guard reported that a massive spill of around 30 square miles of an unknown substance was detected in the Bothnian Sea on Wednesday, although there is no report linking it with the drills.

But on the day Russian military exercises were taking place, Putin appeared to make a threat to the Baltic region. He referred to Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of the czar's birth and referenced the Great Northern War in which a Moscow-led coalition took on the Swedish empire and established Russia as an imperial power.

As his forces resume their offensive in his invasion of Ukraine, Putin told a group of entrepreneurs in Moscow, "on the face of it, he was at war with Sweden taking something away from it. He was not taking away anything, he was returning."

Sauli Niinisto and King Carl Gustaf
King Carl Gustaf of Sweden (C L) and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (C R) visit the Aland Islands in Finland, on June 9, 2022. The heads of state reportedly made an early departure from celebrations marking the autonomy of the Aland Islands. NICLAS NORDLUND/Getty Images