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Finnish President Sauli Niinistö met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi on Wednesday. The presidents shared some of the key topics of their discussions at the press conference late in the evening.
President Putin opened by discussing the increasing trade between the countries. According to Putin, at the end of 2017, bilateral trade grew 37 percent to almost 12.5 billion US dollars, followed by 27 percent more in the first six months of this year.
Putin continued: “[In addition,] over 7,000 Finnish companies maintain business contacts with their Russian partners. Finland’s total direct cumulative investment in the Russian economy is 4.4 billion US dollars, but if we count Finnish affiliates in third countries this would be up to 14 billion US dollars. Russian companies have invested 3.4 billion US dollars in the Finnish economy.”
Then Putin moved to matters of the environment.
“As you may know, Finland is taking part in the program to mitigate the Krasny Bor hazardous waste landfill site near St Petersburg. We will continue to expand our environmental cooperation with Finland. Tourism exchanges are also growing: in 2017 that growth was 15 percent,” he said.
Putin continued by saying that they also discussed international matters. “We expressed mutual interest in cooperating to improve stability and security in the north of Europe. Russia supports the Finnish President’s proposal to improve the security of flights over the Baltic Sea,” Putin said.
According to Putin, the presidents also touched the subjects of Syria and Ukraine “but we will have an opportunity to have a more detailed conversation on these matters.”
Putin also highlighted that they discussed “Arctic issues” and that “in all, talks with the President of Finland were quite constructive. Certainly, they will contribute to the further improvement of bilateral relations.”
Progress in the horizon
President Niinistö opened by saying that “I agree with you that we had a very clear, constructive and productive meeting.” “First, the economy should be mentioned. We see positive developments, and we hope that this will continue. I say this despite the fact—a small reminder, you could say—that there is a trade deficit in favor of Russia, not Finland. I say this because it is in fashion to mention this during international contacts.”
Niinistö continued: “Finland is very pleased to see how cooperation along our state border is progressing. It is working well despite the fact that traffic is intensifying right now. I apologize to people who had delays when crossing the border.”
Niinistö thanked Putin for taking small steps in the right direction regarding the environment. “This involves both countering black carbon—soot, and the use of liquefied natural gas in sea transport. I would like to thank Russia for supporting us on these issues. As far as I know, we both are ready to take part in the Arctic Summit if it will be held.”
Niinistö talked also about forest cooperation. “I also heard that Russia has implemented almost the same forest restoration principle that we have had in Finland for many years. I am sure that there are opportunities to cooperate here as well. Also, when we speak about forests, we should mention wildfires, too. Perhaps they surprised us due to the exceptional weather conditions in Finland, Russia and Sweden this summer, and we should be working on this issue more actively.”
Niinistö thanked Putin for the conversations. “You could probably describe our conversation here as sunny.”
The presidents were asked to comment on the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s statements in late July that “Finland’s cooperation with NATO is forcing Russia to take countermeasures. How would you comment on this statement?”
According to Putin, his “comment is very simple.” “We are not deploying our military contingents far away from our borders and close to NATO countries whereas NATO military infrastructure is moving closer to our borders. The number of personnel and materiel near our borders is increasing,” Putin said and continued, “More military exercises are being conducted. Major NATO exercises are being planned right here, next to this place, as well as in the Baltic region. Of course, we must be aware of what is happening there and improve our infrastructure. We must respond to US missile defense assets deployed next to our borders.”
Putin continued: “Please note that these are not just regular anti-missile systems. These systems can also be used for medium-range missile launches. As I mentioned, we welcome the proposal of the president of Finland to reduce all tensions, including combat aircraft flights.”
According to Niinistö, that “about six years ago I told Mr Putin that like any self-respecting nation Finland provides itself with the best self-defense capabilities.” I have not heard a single word of criticism with regard to Finland during my trip. However, President Putin, for example, mentioned missiles of a certain type. There are no such missiles in Finland at all, none. I think it is critical that we all work to promote mutual understanding across the world.”
Soot, Carbon and Polar Bears
President Niinistö was asked to elaborate on some of the topics that should be raised in the upcoming Arctic Summit.
“What issues can be raised at such a summit? I have already said that if the Arctic ice melts if we lose the Arctic, we will lose the entire world. Maybe fighting black carbon, soot could be the first and easiest step. Today we are already taking certain measures, for example, on the Kola Peninsula they are working to switch from fuel that damages the environment to a more environmentally friendly fuel at thermal power stations. Transitioning to liquefied natural gas instead of fuel oil and other heavier kinds of fuel in Arctic navigation could be the second measure. These steps may seem really small. But it is either these small steps or nothing, most likely.”
Putin said that he would like to agree with everything his colleague said. “There is no doubt that we need to talk about the rules of commercial activity, including for large projects being implemented. We should discuss issues related to the security of navigation in these latitudes, including in case of adverse environmental conditions,” he said.
“It would be very useful to discuss opportunities for joint work to preserve the fauna, the wildlife, because many animals in the Arctic face a difficult situation. For example, polar bears are in danger because of the melting ice. And finally, scientists from all the countries of the Arctic region could join their efforts, and the state must support them in organizing various kinds of research, including climate change and, as I have said, preserving the fauna in the widest sense of the word,” Putin concluded.
Source: A translation of the press conference