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Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Punkaharju in Savonlinna on Thursday. He arrived for a working visit, to honor the centenary of Finland’s independence and to enjoy a dinner set by the City of Savonlinna and to observe a world-class Russian opera, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta at the Savonlinna Opera Festival in the 15th-century three-tower castle, Olavinlinna.
Putin arrived in a white helicopter with the Russian flag painted on the side, but his long limousine was transported to Finland earlier in an airplane. Putin landed at the Savonlinna Airport about 40 minutes late of his schedule in the afternoon. When Finland Today observed Putin’s previous arrival at the Turku Airport in last July, he was one hour late and arrived in an airplane that appeared soundless. There were no official ceremonies at the Savonlinna Airport. Ambassadors of Finland and Russia greeted Putin, and he was transported in a massive police and army escort to Hotel Punkaharju to meet his Finnish counterpart, President Sauli Niinistö.
Here’s what the presidents said during the official greetings:
President Niinistö: I am honored to welcome you to this landmark place, Punkaharju.
We very much value your decision to come here for the centenary of Finland’s independence.
This is a great honor for our country.
Welcome to Finland.
President Putin: Thank you very much.
I would like to thank you, Mr President, for inviting me and my colleagues here.
We are celebrating the centenary of Finland, the centenary of its independence. Also, this year we will mark 25 years of the friendship treaty between Russia and Finland.
The discussions between the presidents lasted about an hour. The talks seemed to focus on protecting the environment, especially the fragile Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea region. Here are the highlights of the press conference.
President Niinistö: Currently, as befits good neighbors, we have extensive bilateral relations and ties. We are also witnessing an upswing in relations, as things are looking up in the economic sphere in both countries. There are more tourists going to both countries, and bilateral trade has picked up significantly.
We also have common goals that we are striving to achieve. Notable is the toxic waste disposal site, Krasny Bor, near St. Petersburg. We discussed this issue last year. We made some progress, and samples were taken at this site.
Editor’s note: Krasny Bor, popularly nicknamed “the Chemical Chernobyl,” is the largest chemical waste landfill in Northwest Russia. The approximate two million tons of chemical waste that has accumulated there over the last 45 years pose a real threat to everything and is located just a few kilometers from St. Petersburg. According to environmental activists, the contaminated water is leaking from the dumpsite into the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland. In April 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev promised that Krasny Bor will be shut down in a hurried schedule. Sources: SCOOP and YLE
Niinistö continued: We also talked about the projects that were implemented in the Baltic Sea region. We mentioned the sewage treatment plants that were put into operation in Kaliningrad, and this also serves as a reminder about the Northern Dimension initiative, which has come to a standstill due to sanctions.
[toggler title=”More about Kalingrad Wastewater Treatment Plant” ]Kalingrad Wastewater Treatment Plant was opened on June 7, 2017. The plant will have significant impacts on the whole Baltic Sea region. For a long time, Kaliningrad has been one of the greatest sources of point-source pollution still remaining in the Baltic Sea region, with the wastewater of almost half a million residents discharged untreated into the sea. Source: The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland[/toggler]Kalingrad Wastewater Treatment Plant was opened on June 7, 2017. The plant will have significant impacts on the whole Baltic Sea region. For a long time, Kaliningrad has been one of the greatest sources of point-source pollution still remaining in the Baltic Sea region, with the wastewater of almost half a million residents discharged untreated into the sea. Source: The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Editor’s note: The Northern Dimension is a joint policy between EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. The policy (initiated in 1999, renewed in 2006) aims at providing a framework to:
promote dialogue and concrete cooperation;
strengthen stability, well-being and intensified economic cooperation;
promote economic integration, competitiveness and sustainable development in Northern Europe.
Niinistö continued: I believe that we should not forget about it (The Northern Dimension) and keep it alive, at least in our thoughts. Northern Dimension allowed us to achieve a lot of good things. We can mention the treatment facilities in St Petersburg, and now the treatment facilities in Kaliningrad, too.
We also talked about the security situation in the Baltic Sea region. We are planning major military exercises. We are also keeping an eye on a certain intensification in the movement of military aircraft, ships, troops. In order for us to avoid negative consequences, situations that no one wants, we need to maintain dialogue.
I would also like for people here in Finland to see that not all is as bad as it seems and that progress has been made.
[alert type=red ]President Niinistö: Putin showed great understanding with regard to the idea I put forward, the idea that Finland would make a proposal that would be very difficult to reject. [/alert]
President Putin showed great understanding with regard to the idea I put forward, the idea that Finland would make a proposal that would be very difficult to reject. This proposal is about fighting black soot pollution. This pollution is caused by aging energy production facilities, power stations and flaring associated gas. Fighting black soot pollution does not impair anyone’s economic interests. (Finland currently chairs the Arctic Council, a high-level forum that addresses problems faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.)
We also discussed the situation in Ukraine, in which we see no improvement. The most urgent task would be to agree on a truce. It is possible and essential to move forward, even if with only small steps. Such steps could include an exchange of persons in custody, for example. It would be possible to begin with these kinds of small steps.
We did not even manage to discuss everything. We have not yet discussed Syria, for example, or disarmament, which is another issue I very much hoped to discuss. But during the boat trip we will have a chance to talk about these and other matters, and I think there will be some time for us to talk in the evening, too.
President Putin: As for our talks, they took place in the constructive and friendly atmosphere, traditional for our contacts. This was our second meeting this year. We also visited each other in 2016. I am sure that this political dialogue is most certainly a positive factor for stimulating development of our bilateral ties.
We are carrying out a number of big projects, particularly in the energy sector. They include the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power station. Preparatory work is fully underway at the site, equipment is being delivered, and the first tranche of our loan, about one billion euros, has been transferred. Let me remind you that the total amount of financing is five billion euros. Half of this will be financed from Russian government resources and half by Rosatom.
[toggler title=”More about Hanhikivi 1″ ]Fennovoima will build its nuclear power plant Hanhikivi 1 (FH1) to produce electricity for its owners at production cost price. The plant will be built in Pyhäjoki in Northern Finland. Fennovoima and RAOS Project, subsidiary of Rusatom Energy International, have a plant supply contract for the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant. According to the schedule agreed with Rosatom, Hanhikivi 1 plant will produce electricity in 2024. The plant site on the coastal municipality of Pyhäjoki is located in Northern Ostrobothnia on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The name of the plant comes from Hanhikivi peninsula where the site is located in. Source: Fennovoima[/toggler]
We are also working on renewable energy sources. The company Fortum, for example, and our Rusnano are establishing a fund with more than 500 million dollars to develop wind energy.
During the talks we noted the efficient work of the environmental agencies of both countries. Mr Niinistö has already mentioned our joint work on hazardous waste at the Krasny Bor dump site near St Petersburg. We have just started this work.
The renovation of Kaliningrad’s water supply system has been completed. This is a very serious, large step in ensuring environmental safety in the Baltic area in general. We intend to continue expanding our bilateral cooperation in environmental protection.
[alert type=red ]President Putin: We highly value that our Finnish partners strive to conduct an independent and balanced foreign policy and consider it to be a major factor of stability in the north of Europe. [/alert]
We highly value that our Finnish partners strive to conduct an independent and balanced foreign policy and consider it to be a major factor of stability in the north of Europe. Naturally, we are ready to continue dialogue with Finland and all interested states on enhancing security in the region.
We still have to discuss the settlement process in Syria. I promised to inform my colleague in detail about it but right now I can say that in our view the main task is to stop the bloodshed once and for all and ensure the necessary conditions for a peaceful political settlement.
I would like to thank Finnish citizens who met us on our way to this hotel for their friendly and warm attitude. They greeted me with friendly waves. I cannot wave back to each of them but I want to say hello to them through the Finnish media.
After a reporter from the American TV news channel CNN had been grilling President Putin about US politics, the reporter turned to President Niinistö: It seems that Finland has to balance between Russia and its US allies, but now a certain split is emerging in the United States. Do you think anti-Russian sanctions should be toughened or do you share the opinion of President Trump and his desire to improve relations with Russia?
President Niinistö: As for balance, I just want to remind you that at this event, an American TV company asked double the questions as others. Yes, Finland is building relations with neighboring countries. We have good, balanced relations with Russia. Finland is also building relations with other countries, the EU, and the United States.
This is not about Finland balancing between these powers; this is about a process, an approach that should be used in other parts of the world as well. The point is that we are trying to understand each other. As regards maintaining relations with Russia, I would like to cite the discussions that took place at the NATO summit in Warsaw last summer. Its participants spoke of the necessity and urgency of dialogue, and as far as I can tell, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron are making such efforts as well, and I think this is very good.
The rest of the press conference concerned mostly US politics. For readers interested in some of the highlights, we can recommend this article by VICE News.
After the press conference, the presidents travelled to the medieval Olavinlinna Castle aboard the steamboat S/S Saimaa.
Before the performance in Olavinlinna Castle’s King’s Hall, Putin and Niinistö attended a reception dinner, hosted by Chair of Savonlinna City Council Anna-Kristiina Mikkonen. Putin was served local European perch, beer and fine champagne, among other tasty treats. According to Mayor of Savonlinna Janne Laine, Putin “likes fish extremely much.”
According to the Russian government, after the official part of the visit was over, the presidents had a productive one-on-one discussion that lasted about 90 minutes.