Vladimir Putin: I would like first of all to thank the President of Finland for her invitation. As you noticed, a sufficiently representative Russian delegation has arrived in Helsinki. They are people who make independent decisions in their fields, not mere crowd-fillers. This is an indication of the level of our relations and of Russia’s attitude to Russian-Finnish ties.
We are also very pleased with the results of the negotiations just completed with the President of Finland. This is our second official meeting since Tarja Halonen visited Moscow. We have met more often at international forums. I must say that this time we have been able, in a favourable atmosphere, to raise and discuss very serious aspects of our bilateral relations and international issues. We value the relationship of trust established between Russia and Finland during these years. What is important is that today our relations are free of political issues. I do not think anyone will doubt that Russia and Finland have only benefited from this in the past few decades.
In 2000, trade between our countries topped the $5.2 billion mark. I am convinced that as the Russian economy expands, coordination of trade and investment activities will grow. Our principal objective today is to create legal guarantees for business, and we and our experts spoke at length on these subjects yesterday: how to build and strengthen a legal framework for cooperation.
One particular area of our trade and economic cooperation is the timber industry. Next March we are planning to hold a joint conference on this theme under the chairmanship of heads of Government of the two countries.
A few words about the situation on the Russian-Finnish border. For Russia it is now one of the calmest sections around the perimeter of its frontiers. And this despite the fact that more than 6 million people cross it annually. Our countries are investing liberally in border crossing points and roads, including their improvement and modernisation. Before the end of this year, we are planning to open two more points for motor traffic – at Svetorgorsk and Salo. Consideration is being given to starting regular passenger traffic from Petrozavodsk to Yoensuu. We have likewise discussed in detail the development of the transport structure and high-speed rail between Helsinki and St Petersburg and from St Petersburg on to Moscow. If these plans succeed, then the travel time to St Petersburg will be somewhere around three hours, and from Helsinki to Moscow, seven or so hours. These are quite realistic plans and can be carried out within three to four years.
These measures are intended to make life easier both for businessmen and millions of ordinary people – tourists, students, athletes, scientists and artists – all those who want to learn about the life and traditions of the neighbouring country.
There is one more point I cannot help mentioning. We know that Finland treats expatriate Russians well and is sincerely interested in the Russian language and culture. The prevailing tendency here is to give a considered and realistic assessment of different and often ambiguous events of the past. I think this is a good example for our other neighbours, where the Russian-speaking population is still not treated adequately as required by the European Union.
Over the course of the meeting we also discussed key issues related to world politics. I want to note that on most of them our positions are very close and on some they simply coincide. Russia and Finland firmly advocate the primacy of international law and the leading role of authoritative organisations such as the United Nations and the OSCE. Russia applauds Finland’s non-aligned status and acknowledges its vital significance for stability and security in the Baltic region and northern Europe. I must say that, on balance, Finland’s status has helped it to make a unique contribution to current developments in the world and Europe. We also believe that Finland’s EU membership is opening up new vistas for business cooperation between our countries, and we propose to turn it to good account. Russia highly estimates the readiness of Finland’s leadership, and President Halonen in particular, to develop friendly partner relations with us. We, for our part, will strive to preserve all the valuable elements achieved by our peoples over recent decades. I am sure we have many things to be proud of and to prize.
Question: When will the war in Chechnya end?
Vladimir Putin: There are no large-scale hostilities under way there now. In point of fact there are no hostilities at all. We are currently encountering only individual attacks by terrorists, and moreover, I would like to
draw your attention to the fact that we are not talking about a Chechen
problem as such, although this aspect also exists, but primarily about the
opposition of the so-called religious extremists, about establishing normal
life in the republic. Despite all the difficulties, civilian institutions will continue to be established there and be gradually provided with all power in the republic. We have budgeted sizeable sums of money for 2002 to rebuild the social and economic infrastructure of that territory of Russia. And when the necessary climate is created, representative bodies of authority will be elected. I think the processes are complex but they are moving in the right direction. I am sure that by working together with the help of the international community we will be able to tackle even very involved matters – humanitarian matters.
Question: A question about obstacles in the way of better relations between Russia and the Baltic countries. You said you discussed them.
Vladimir Putin: We had a rather lengthy discussion on this topic. We are pleased that there is a country like Finland which enjoys quite a high
level of cooperation and very good relations both with Russia and the
Baltic states. And its example, at least its example, can do a lot to improve relations between Russia and the Baltic countries.
Russia isn't seeking to exert any kind of pressure on the
Baltic states and is insisting only on one thing: that the common European
social principles should extend to the Russian-speaking
population of the Baltic countries. We need nothing else. But we will be insisting on that: it includes the language, representation in bodies of authority and administration, and so on. In my last interview with Finnish media I spoke about that, but I can repeat what I said. If in a region like, say, Macedonia, ethnic minorities that make up 20% of its population, in this case the Albanians, demand and negotiate certain conditions for themselves: official recognition of their language and representation in bodies of authority and administration, including in security agencies, why should we deny such things to the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic states, who make up a higher percentage in some of them than the Albanians in Macedonia: 36% and 28%?
We must, without any ill feelings, come together and agree on common principles and rules in this area and see to it that all countries and continents stick to them. But this, of course, can be done only in an atmosphere of benevolent dialogue and positive cooperation. I think Finland can make a very substantial contribution.
Question: In a year’s time NATO will make a decision on enlargement. What do you think about the Baltic countries’ desire to join NATO? How will the move affect Baltic regional security? What are Russia and Finland going to do in this respect?
Vladimir Putin: You know our position regarding the expansion of NATO. We do not believe that this has been guided by the objective realities of the current international situation. No one is threatening anyone else in Europe. It could probably only occur to some sick, fevered imagination that even some acts of aggression could be launched by anyone in this region of Europe today, including Russia, primarily Russia. We recognise the independence of states and are ready to help with its development. I think only this can explain the urge of some countries, including the Baltic countries, to join the North Atlantic bloc in order to reassert their independence once more. In the final analysis it is their choice. But, I repeat, we see no objective reasons for expansion, even to include the Baltic countries. But surely this is not the point. People all over the world, all over Europe talk about the need for a favourable political climate in Europe, about the need to tear down old barriers in Europe. Does NATO’s expansion solve this problem? It certainly does not. So why deceive ourselves? The decision simply pushes NATO’s frontiers to the Russian border. The move does not create a common security space on the continent. It fails to solve the key problem. I do not think we should take advantage of this situation to launch a campaign of hysteria. That would only worsen things, but, I repeat, we are not happy with this. We consider it a mistake which will fail to solve global problems and problems of European security.
Question: You have said time and again that Russia and Finland have excellent relations, always adding, however, that a lot more needs to be done, above all in the economy. Did you discuss today, for example, the project to build a gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea or plans to expand the Northern Dimension programme? Was an agreement on mutual protection of investments discussed? Can the relationship between Russia and Finland be seen as a kind of model for Russia-EU relations?
Vladimir Putin: To begin with, I must say that we have just discussed NATO and whether one should join it or not. I must say that in recent decades Finland has made impressive use of its neutral status and its relations with the Soviet Union, and is today successfully developing relations with Russia. We really believe that our relations with Finland can set an example for other states, the European Union included, on how to develop relations with Russia. Many technical and technological questions and questions of a legal nature have been cropping up. It was these questions that our experts examined and President Halonen and I discussed. We consider it necessary to strengthen the legal framework, and a mutual investment-support agreement and investment guarantees are a very important part of our programme. Experts have so far been unable to agree on all the details, but we are not dramatising things, the experts are on the right track, and we are sure all these questions will be answered.
To be sure, as the European Union expands, Russia and our traditional partners are facing many questions. Incidentally, we are counting on Finland’s support in negotiations with the European Union on these matters. By and large we see no problem that does not have a solution in sight.
In conclusion, I would like through the media and you, my colleagues, to thank the people of Helsinki and Finland for their kind reception. I see many groups of demonstrators following me in an orderly way. They all demand a redrawing of European borders. I do not think this is the optimum way of resolving pan-European issues. If we allow Europe to plunge into this process, no one will be left unaffected, but neither can we ignore these people. The President and I discussed this matter. We see only one solution to all these problems – to combine our efforts and integrate European countries into a single structure. Then it would not matter where a person chooses to reside in a united Europe, a bit closer to Helsinki or a bit closer to St Petersburg. But on the whole, I want to thank the people of Helsinki for their friendly reception, because different people, not only the organised ones who followed me from place to place, but people from many walks of life, sincere in their expression of feelings, gave me a warm welcome in the streets. That is very gratifying. And on behalf of all members of our delegation, I want to extend the warmest words of thanks to them.