President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
We have just finished talks with the President of Finland. They were held in a constructive atmosphere.
Recently, in mid-July, Mr Niinistö and I had a meeting in Helsinki, and today we continued to discuss topical issues on the bilateral and international agendas.
Russian-Finnish relations are traditionally neighbourly and mutually beneficial. This includes trade and economic ties, most importantly. At the end of 2017, bilateral trade grew 37 percent to almost $12.5 billion, followed by 27 percent more in the first six months of this year.
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, but if we count Finnish affiliates in third countries this would be up to $14 billion. Russian companies have invested $3.4 billion in the Finnish economy.
We have discussed various areas of economic cooperation, as well as the issues that Russian and Finnish citizens are interested in. Issues like environmental events and our joint efforts to protect the environment affect all of our citizens.
As you may know, Finland is taking part in the programme 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.
We also discussed international matters. I again thanked my Finnish colleague for organising the Russia-US summit in Helsinki. 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.
We also touched on the settlement in Syria and in southeastern Ukraine, but we will have an opportunity to have a more detailed conversation on these matters.
My colleague and I also discussed Arctic issues, first, regarding Finland’s current presidency in the Arctic Council. In all, talks with the President of Finland were quite constructive. Certainly, they will contribute to the further improvement of bilateral relations.
I would like to thank Mr President for accepting our invitation and for coming to Sochi today.
President of Finland Sauli Niinistö (retranslated): Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
It was a real pleasure to meet with you today. 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 favour of Russia, not Finland. I say this because it is in fashion to mention this during international contacts.
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 apologise to people who had delays when crossing the border.
We discussed many aspects of environmental issues. First, we spoke about the fact that environmental issues, among other things, have come to the fore while Finland chairs the Arctic Council.
We have outlined several specific issues we are working on, and we have already taken some steps in the right direction, even if these steps are small. 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 in these issues. As far as I know, we both are ready to take part in the Arctic Summit if it will be held.
I would also like to say something about the Northern Dimension, a joint programme of the European Union and the Russian Federation that made it possible to build waste treatment facilities in St Petersburg. Finland would like the Northern Dimension to continue and prosper in the future, and we hope that we will be able to find new joint projects to undertake in waste management.
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.
I am also pleased that after this news conference, President Putin and I will continue our discussion of the international agenda. I am always interested in the President’s opinion and views in this area.
Thank you for the conversation. You could probably describe our conversation here as sunny.
Question (retranslated): Sometime in late July, Defence Minister Shoigu said that Finland’s cooperation with NATO is forcing Russia to take countermeasures. How would you comment on this statement? This question is for both presidents.
Vladimir Putin: My 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. 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 defence assets deployed next to our borders.
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.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has developed certain rules but they do not apply to military aviation. They are recommendations. We are willing to discuss this with our partners from NATO, but they refuse to do so. We think that this is not a constructive position and hope that this will change.
Sauli Niinistö: I think about six years ago I told Mr Putin that like any self-respecting nation Finland provides itself with the best self-defence 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. This is my approach to this visit.
Question: Mr Niinistö, my question is primarily for you.
Last year, at The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue forum, you proposed holding the Arctic Summit, but later you said it was necessary to have a concrete agenda. Today you have already mentioned this while speaking about environmental problems. Which topics do you believe should be raised at this event?
Mr Putin, another question for you. When opening today’s meeting with your colleague, you said how you felt about the Arctic Summit. Which problems, in your opinion, should be raised at this summit?
In addition, let us go back a few days, to your visit to Austria, if we may. Colleagues in Berlin tried to ask you about it, but unfortunately you were unable to answer. Was it just a private visit or did you manage to have any substantive meetings with your colleagues?
Sauli Niinistö: So, three questions in one, right?
Yes, it is true that I said so about a year ago and I have discussed this issue with President Putin many times since. I am very glad that Russia is ready to consider participation and regards this idea positively.
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.
I also see a possibility to discuss such a major and serious issue as the correlation between the economic exploitation of the Arctic Region and environmental protection as well as how to find the right balance.
Vladimir Putin: First, I would like to agree with everything my colleague said. Perhaps I will try to elaborate a bit.
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.
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 organising various kinds of research, including climate change and, as I have said, preserving the fauna in the widest sense of the word.
As for the second part of your question – the trip to Austria – it was strictly private. I would like to thank my Austrian friends for the invitation once again. I have to say that all of them are adults in important positions in society and the state, but they are also a very open and lively bunch. I would like to congratulate them with all my heart on the occasion I was fortunate enough to take part in, the wedding ceremony. In addition, the groom is someone I know: a former athlete and judoka, which is always a bond.
However, while this was a celebration, of course I found time to briefly discuss business with the Foreign Minister and the Chancellor of the Republic of Austria. I would like to note that Austria plays a very positive role in general by trying to advance bilateral relations while also promoting dialogue between Russia and the entire European Union.
Soon Finland will assume the presidency of the European Union, in the second half of 2019, I think. We hope that during Finland’s presidency we will also manage to do something positive to restore normal relations between Russia and the EU.
Question (retranslated): What is your take on the outcome of your meeting with the US President in Helsinki? The summit took place five weeks ago. New US sanctions on Russia are coming into force today. The United States is also threatening with more sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. What do you think?
Vladimir Putin: Europe needs Nord Stream 2.
The President just mentioned the need to switch to more environmentally friendly fuel in the Arctic. This is an absolutely correct proposal. However, this is not the only use of natural gas. Most importantly, gas consumption, including in Europe, is on the rise. Gazprom, for example, increased its volume to the EU by almost 13 percent last year at a time when European countries such as Norway and Great Britain and others are seeing their reserves dwindle. This is simply a fact established by analysts. Rest assured, this is how things are.
This business is regulated by certain rules such as the volume of gas and the length of the route. Given the volumes of Russia’s gas supplies to Europe and the distance between the production sites and points of delivery, Russia is the best supplier for European economy. We are prepared to compete with anyone. We hope for fair competition within existing international legal norms.
With regard to the meeting with President Trump, I think of it positively and believe it was useful. No one expected a two-hour conversation to resolve every controversial issue. President Trump expressed his position on these matters, I said what I thought. An exchange of views and a direct conversation are always very useful.
With regard to the sanctions, these actions are counterproductive and meaningless, especially with respect to a country such as Russia. And it is not just the position of the President of the United States that matters. It is the position of the so-called deep state, the ruling class in the broad sense of the word. I hope that the realisation that this policy has no future will someday reach our American partners, and we will begin to cooperate in a normal way.
And, again, we want to thank Helsinki for hosting this meeting.
Question: My question is for the President of Finland.
If we may, let us return to a topic that has already been mentioned. I am speaking about your initiative to secure flights above the Baltics. This means that military aircrafts should fly in this region with their transponders turned on.
Russia has said many times, and President Putin has said again today, that Russia agrees with your proposal, but the problem lies in NATO’s position: the alliance in not ready to follow these recommendations and will not agree to do this. Can you say, considering NATO’s position, that your initiative has failed and should be given up?
Sauli Niinistö: My view on this issue is not as gloomy as you have described it.
Which stage or phase are we in right now? The stage when all the parties have delegated this issue to the ICAO as a civil aviation organisation. Some progress has been made in this work. We have developed good practices that can be applied; these mechanisms can also be used in military aviation.
This spring Russian Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and his US colleague Joseph Dunford had a meeting in Helsinki, and I had meetings with both of them. I was surprised by how clear the interaction is in Syria in order to avoid any collisions or incidents. And, of course, the risks in that region are higher than in the Baltics. So I still hope that we will succeed in the Baltic Region and the situation will stabilise there.
Vladimir Putin: I agree with President of Finland. I do not think that the idea of scaling back confrontation and improving security in the Baltic Sea has failed. Of course not, just the opposite, it has become even more relevant lately. There are some technical problems, because the Russian army, Russian aviation and NATO countries’ aviation use slightly different equipment, which should be discussed by experts. But I believe the idea itself is important right now, and we will carefully continue to discuss it with our partners.