President of Russia Vladimir Putin: For my part, I am very grateful to the President of Finland for the invitation. I am particularly pleased that this meeting is taking place at a time when Turku and St Petersburg are celebrating the anniversary of becoming twin cities and building their friendship. These two cities have done a great deal to bring interstate relations to a new level of partnership.
As for the interstate relations, Mr President and I have discussed in some detail all the main aspects of our cooperation. We have maintained contacts at the parliamentary level and between our business communities, and today you were present at the signing of the relevant agreements.
Over the past three years Russia has remained Finland’s leading partner in terms of trade and economic ties.
I am very pleased that, in addition to energy cooperation, we are expanding ties in other sectors, such as mechanical engineering, shipbuilding, high technology and the pharmaceutical industry. We talked about cooperation in the framework of the Arctic Council and the Baltic Sea – this also applies to environmental issues and fighting crime, terrorism and drug trafficking. Contacts have been scheduled between our Defence Ministers.
I am sure that today's visit and our talks will allow us to focus our attention on the most sensitive points, including interaction in the border regions.
I invited Mr President to come to Russia on a working visit before the start of the Arctic Council. We will have an opportunity to attend the launch of a new hydroelectric power plant being built by the Finnish company Fortum. The total investment to date is estimated at 2.5 billion euros, and by 2017 it will reach 4 billion euros.
Mr President invited Russia to participate in the celebration of the centenary of Finland’s independence in 2017. We will be happy to take part in whatever format our Finnish friends deem appropriate.
Thank you very much.
Question: It’s no secret that the global economy is not in the best state: there’s a severe crisis in Spain, and the situation is no better in Italy, Greece and Cyprus. How are these unfavourable global economic conditions reflected in our bilateral trade and economic relations? Which areas are slowing down and which are growing? What concerns do you have?
Vladimir Putin: As always in such cases, it is best to prepare for any challenges but hope for the best.
We believe that the situation will improve, and there are some positive trends in the global economy. We will discuss these issues in St Petersburg at the G20 Summit in September.
As for the Russian-Finnish economic ties, they are following some positive dynamics despite the hardships in the global economy. In 2008, before the onset of the crisis, trade between our countries amounted to over 20 billion euros – it was somewhere around 22–22.5 billion euros.
At present, we have been unable to reach that level: last year trade amounted to 17 billion, but there has been steady growth, reaching 3.5% last year. This year, in the first four months, growth has been at about the same level. At the same time, there has been a 5% increase in investment.
New joint ventures have been set up, including in such complex and troubled industries as shipbuilding. These companies are receiving orders, though mostly Russian orders so far. Our Vyborg dock received orders from a customer in Helsinki, and they worked on a joint project. I hope this will continue.
Finland receives more than two-thirds of its tourism income from Russian tourists: I think the figure stands at 858 million euros. Joint projects in sensitive sectors, which I mentioned earlier, such as machine building (a company in Perm is about to be launched), shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals and energy, help us to preserve jobs, advance our shared plans, and develop our economies even in these rather difficult conditions in the global markets.
Question: My question has to do with international politics. According to available information, Edward Snowden came to Moscow and may still be there. The United States has criticised Russia's actions very sharply, accusing it of aiding a criminal. My question is to President Putin: how serious is this issue for Russian-US relations and how do you feel about this criticism?
Vladimir Putin: It is true that Mr Snowden arrived in Moscow, which was completely unexpected for us. He came as a transit passenger, so he didn’t need a visa or other documents. As a transit passenger, he has the right to buy a plane ticket and go wherever he wants.
However, he does not need a visa because he did not cross the state border. Therefore, any accusations against Russia are just nonsense. He is a transit passenger and remains in the transit hall. Our special services never worked with Mr Snowden and are not working with him now.
As for his possible extradition, we can extradite foreign nationals only to those countries with which we have relevant international agreements on the extradition of criminals. We have no such agreement with the United States. Mr Snowden has committed no crimes in the Russian Federation.
There is a similar case with Mr Assange, regarding whom we have also received extradition demands and who is also considered a criminal. Like Mr Snowden, he considers himself a human rights activist and fights for the freedom of information. Ask yourself this: should we extradite such people so that they can be imprisoned on not?
In any case, I personally would prefer not to get involved in such cases. It’s like shearing a piglet: there’s a lot of squealing and very little wool. I would rather leave it to [FBI Director Robert] Mueller and [Russian Federal Security Service Director Alexander] Bortnikov to resolve this. I hope that it does not affect our business relations with the United States. And I hope that our partners will understand our position.
Mr Snowden is a free man, and the sooner he chooses his travel destination, the better it will be for us and for him.
Question: I have a question to both presidents. In recent years, relations between the two nations have been darkened by the problems in juvenile justice. How are things currently developing? Has the situation improved, or does it remain as before?
Vladimir Putin: Since Russia’s accession to the Hague Convention, the situation is steadily changing for the better. We have improved cooperation between corresponding Russian and Finnish agencies and organisations. Entirely lawful decisions are being made. In any case, we no longer feel the same urgency in this area as before. We are grateful to our Finnish partners for their understanding and joint work.
Question (retranslated): I have a question for President Putin regarding the state of civil society in Russia. The Human Rights Watch has assessed the situation in Russia in regard to civil society and NGOs as the most difficult since the fall of the Soviet Union. Over the course of your third term as President, laws have been passed that exacerbate the situation and position of NGOs.
For example, the law on registering public associations as foreign agents, the law that forbids so-called propaganda of homosexuality, laws that limit peoples’ rights to engage in protests, rallies and freedom of expression. What do you think about this assessment by the Human Rights Watch, and why have such laws been passed specifically during your third term, what has been the reason for this? Perhaps Russia has somehow changed, and this has become imperative? Otherwise, what is the reason?
Vladimir Putin: I think we always need to listen to such respected organisations as the Human Rights Watch. This is a cause to analyse the situation and draw certain conclusions.
As for why these laws are being passed now, I can say the following: they are being passed in order to regulate certain relations that are taking shape in our society. In other words, for the same reason that all laws are passed. At one point, corresponding laws were passed in the United States on registering organisations that receive funding from abroad as foreign agents. We did this now, and India did it just recently as well. Once again, I can stress that this only pertains to organisations receiving funding from abroad and engaging in domestic political activities.
Russia wants to protect its political activities within the nation from any external interference or, in any case, to know what is happening in terms of financing. I want to emphasise again that the work of such organisations in Russia is not being forbidden, they just need to register in a certain manner and can continue their work.
I want to note that our law is much more liberal than the one still in effect in the US, as well as the one recently passed in India.
As for prohibiting homosexual propaganda, this is not about imposing any kind of sanctions against homosexuality or, you know… well, anyway, you know what I mean. (Laughter.) This is about protecting children from this type of information. In some nations, for example, in Europe, here in Finland, people feel that children should not be protected from this information. Fine, don’t impose any restrictions; we are not going to meddle in your affairs. However, we will be imposing restrictions in our nation, as the State Duma deputies have decided. We ask you not to interfere in our regulations.
I would like to point out and particularly stress that the law does not in any way infringe on the rights of sexual minorities. They are full-fledged members of our society and are not being discriminated against in any way.