Above all, he was recognized for his foreign policy skills with a fine balancing act of maintaining the country’s good relations with the West, particularly with the United States, and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War years.
His second term, from 1988 to 1994, was crucial in cementing Finland’s neutral status until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which shares an 800-mile border with Finland.
Mr. Koivisto, fluent in Russian, developed a particular bond with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, but also stayed in close contact with President George Bush. In 1990, the Finnish leader hosted a summit meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev in Helsinki.
Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Koivisto had started to lead Finland out of international isolation. He unilaterally declared two treaties as void: the 1947 Paris Treaty, which placed restrictions on the Finnish military, and the 1948 Finnish-Soviet pact on mutual assistance, which hindered Finland’s integration with European security structures.
In 1992, Mr. Koivisto initiated the country’s application to join the European Community — the precursor of the European Union — and three years later led Finland to join the bloc after winning overwhelming support for membership in a referendum.
Mauno Henrik Koivisto was born on Nov. 25, 1923, in Turku, Finland.
At 16, he was a volunteer on the home front in the bitter 1939-40 Winter War against the Soviets during World War II. He also fought in the Continuation War in 1941-44, when Finnish troops battled the Russians.
After the war, Mr. Koivisto joined the Social Democratic Party and earned a philosophy degree and a Ph.D. in sociology. He emerged as a key figure among the Social Democrats in the late 1960s.
Before becoming head of state, Mr. Koivisto held…