President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
The President of Finland, Mr Sauli Niinisto, and I just finished our talks. And I want to begin by noting that our interstate relations have a long-standing history: we marked 95 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries on December 31, 2015, and we maintain a friendly dialogue based on partnership.
During today’s talks, we particularly focused on the situation in the trade and economic sphere. Naturally, I must note that as a result of the well-known European sanctions and our counter-measures, our bilateral trade has suffered. In 2014, it fell by 15%, and in 2015, it declined by 40%. Tourism dropped by 19%.
We agreed that the Intergovernmental Commission will work actively on re-establishing and enhancing multidimensional ties. At the same time, I want to note that economic players are very determined, so to speak: they are working and building major, ambitious plans.
The total volume of accumulated Russian investments in Finland is $2.3 billion, while Finnish investments in Russia make up $2.9 billion, and if we include investments through third nations, it’s over $12 billion. We are cooperating successfully in many areas – for example, in shipbuilding. Thanks to this, Helsinki’s shipbuilding capacity is fully loaded through 2018; I repeat, they are stably loaded with our orders, I mean the construction of six ships, five of which are for Russian end users. In April, for example, we will transfer the world’s first LNG fuelled icebreaker to our Finnish partners.
The Finnish company Fortum is working actively in Russia. Russia’s Rosatom is working on implementing a project to build a nuclear power plant.
During today’s talks, we specifically discussed cross-border and regional cooperation. Mr President gave particular attention to transborder migration, which has recently sharply increased.
I would like to inform you that today, we came to a final agreement on introducing temporary limitations at two checkpoints on the Russian-Finnish border, Salla and Lotta. These limitations will affect citizens from third nations, but will not in any way affect Russian-Belarusian cooperation within the framework of the Union State and Finland.
I would like to inform you that today, we came to a final agreement on introducing temporary limitations at two checkpoints on the Russian-Finnish border, Salla and Lotta.
We consider the agreement between Russia’s Federal Migration Service and Finland’s Interior Ministry highly important. This agreement will be finalised today as the Memorandum of Understanding and will address information exchanges between Russian and Finnish partners.
March 22 is Baltic Sea Day, and Mr President and I have agreed to coordinate environmental initiatives in the Baltic Sea more closely. Russia has declared 2017 the Year of the Environment, and we count on Finland’s involvement in its events.
We talked in detail about global crises, including the situation in Syria. We expect that all our western partners will actively support the promotion of the peace process, through their contacts with opposition forces.
We have set a schedule of bilateral contacts for the short-term. I am sure that the agreements reached today on deepening cooperation will provide new momentum to our cooperation.
I want to thank Mr President and his entire team, all our Finnish colleagues, for today’s substantive talks.
President of Finland Sauli Niinisto (retranslated): Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I want to thank President Putin. We had a very sincere and interesting conversation. We also talked about international relations, and the ideas and thoughts Mr Putin expressed are very important – thoughts and ideas on the situation in the Middle East and Syria. Our common desire is to continue the ceasefire in Syria and the political process with participation by Russia and the United States. Russia and the United States are playing an important role in this process, so that this political process has had a good start.
We also talked about the current instability in North Africa and the Middle East. This is a major threat to all nations that have order. In the European Union, this phenomenon is also evident in the form of serious migration flows that continue to this day. It is very important for international cooperation in this area to function, so that we can jointly act to stabilise the situation and fight terrorism, which is highly important.
As for our bilateral agenda, I want to say a few words about the border. Finland is very pleased that you took into account our wishes. The agreement you mentioned, the agreement on information exchange, is also highly important, because information plays a major role in the modern world in eliminating instability.
You also mentioned our trade and economic relations, which are still going fairly well in the given framework. In this framework, we can continue advancing trade and economic relations and develop them further. It is very good that the Interstate Commission’s work on economic cooperation has been renewed.
In our environmental cooperation, we will certainly take into account the Year of the Environment in Russia in 2017. This will be a very useful initiative for rehabilitating the Gulf of Finland. In this respect, we have long-standing traditions of working for the good of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. We hope that we will be able to continue our cooperation in the future to resolve problems concerning the Krasny Bor range.
I want to once again sincerely thank you, Mr President, and invite you to Finland at a time that is convenient for you.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Question: A question for President Putin on the situation with asylum seekers. After you gave the Federal Security Service the command to increase control over the borders, the number of migrants going from Russia to Finland decreased significantly. Can you now guarantee that this phenomenon that we had over the course of several months will not occur again? And if so, how will you do this?
Vladimir Putin: Some time ago, during one of our telephone conversations, the President of Finland pointed out this problem and asked that we take the necessary measures to create the corresponding limitations and, as you can see, we have done this. In January-February, I believe 1,700 individuals crossed the Russian-Finnish border, whereas in March, that number was in the single digits. We agreed – and today, we made the final confirmations – to implement limitations at two border checkpoints, Salla and Lotta-Raja Jooseppi. As you can see, it is all working.
But there is another very important circumstance. While people may be coming from Turkey and Greece without any control or documents, foreigners can only enter Russia’s territory with visas – except, of course, if they are from countries with which we have visa-free travel. Nevertheless, this creates certain conditions for serious control.
We have certain limitations here pertaining to the fact that if people enter Russia’s territory lawfully, but another country, in this case, Finland, accepts them as refugees, their visas have expired, and in that case we cannot let them back in without visas. This is how we had certain problems with Norway. That is precisely why I fully agree with Mr President on this; it is very important to have a professional, timely information exchange. I can tell you one thing for sure: we understand our Finnish friends’ concerns and will work together as partners.
Sauli Niinisto: Yes, my colleague has already described quite substantively the situation we want to create. I want to repeat again that we are very pleased that our interests and our wishes were taken into account.
Question: Today the Brussels terrorist attacks are the main topic of conversation worldwide, and you have expressed your condolences; but these were bilateral talks, so my question is about bilateral relations.
A question to the President of Finland. It is common knowledge that with regard to the sanctions policy against Russia, all European Union countries are obligated to abide by the European Commission’s decisions. The decision applies equally to all EU nations. But it is clear, and we know, that different EU countries have a radically different volume of ties with Russia. For example, Russia and Finland have an enormous volume of trade, even in spite of the drop in recent years, and it would be strange to compare it to trade between, for example, Russia and Portugal. Thus, how does Finland balance between abiding by common European guidelines and its own national interests?
And a question for the President of Russia. How do you assess this situation? In your view, are our partners able to maintain this balance, or not?
Sauli Niinisto: First of all, I want to note that the sanctions are not imposed by the European Commission, but rather, the EU’s European Summit through a unanimous decision. These decisions are subject to adherence by all member states. Certainly, nobody denies that these economic sanctions have decreased the volume of trade between Finland and Russia. I imagine there is not a single person who would disagree that it would be good to get rid of these sanctions. But for this to happen, the Minsk Agreements must be adhered to.
Indeed, as you rightly noted, Finnish-Russian trade and economic relations remain fairly active. At the very least, trade between Finland and Russia is far higher than between Russia and Portugal, as was noted. And it should also be said that there are many reserves and many opportunities beyond the scope of the sanctions. We must certainly use, and are using, these opportunities.
Today, we also spoke about the presence of the chairperson of the Russian part of the Interstate Commission for Economic Cooperation, and noted during this conversation that we must strive to find new forms for this trade and economic cooperation that do not fall under these limitations. I must say that the overall economic situation, which was unfortunately not very favourable, has also affected the overall economic situation.
This unfavourable economic situation is being observed both in Russia and in Finland. I must say that one of the ways these processes are manifesting themselves is through a drop in the volume of tourism. This is strongly felt in eastern Finland; many businesspeople talk about this, stating that tourism indicators have fallen. Before, Russians happily came there on vacation, made purchases, etc.
As for balancing interests, which you asked about. In Finland, we are fairly direct people, in that we do not compare our interests. We abide by common decisions, abide by what was decided, and in this case, it is the sanctions. But we also abide by the principles of good neighbourly relations and act as a good neighbour would.
Vladimir Putin: As for the decline in our trade, there are many reasons for this: they include the European sanctions, our counter-measures, the overall decline in economic activity throughout the world and in Europe, the drop in the prices of Russia’s traditional export goods, and the currency exchange rate fluctuations. All of this has led Russia to lose its place as Finland’s number one trade partner to Germany and Sweden. But Finland has also incurred certain losses – according to our calculations, just over 1 percent of the GDP. And I assure you, nobody likes this.
The economic players are quite active. I already mentioned that Fortum, a well-known Finnish company, plans to make new investments worth 4 billion Euro or US dollars in the Russian power sector in Siberia and the Urals.
Construction of a nuclear power plant in Finland will be carried out with a Russian loan of $7 billion. Today, our Finnish partners provided the following data: there are about 500–600 Finnish companies operating in the Russian market and, according to their data, this creates about 40,000 jobs in Russia. Russia has supplied nearly 100 percent of Finland’s natural gas and continues to do so; it provided and continues to provide 80 percent of the oil consumed in Finland.
I assure you, both sides understand the importance and significance of trade and economic ties and treat them with great care, as much as is possible given the current conditions. Thank you.