President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen,
The state visit of the President of Finland is taking place today. Ms Tarja Halonen is always a very welcome guest in our country, but this is Madam President’s first state visit to Russia.
Naturally, I am very pleased about this. The visit’s agenda has been interesting and busy. It was prepared in the course of our working meetings and contacts between our governments, ministries and agencies over an extended period of time. Therefore, it has become a pinnacle in our relations of the recent period.
Last year and this year we marked historic dates in our relationship.
Today I would like to say that trade and economic ties between our two countries have regained a healthy growth trend. Mutual trade increased by 20 percent in a recent period. Russia continues to occupy first place among Finland’s trading partners, and a significant amount of Finnish direct investment has accumulated in our economy. This is a welcome development.
Today we talked about Russia’s modernisation and the development of innovation collaboration. There are already good examples of such cooperation. In late May this year Lappeenranta hosted the first EU-Russia Innovation Forum, and is currently preparing the second such forum. I think it is an interesting event.
Finnish companies are ready to develop innovation cooperation with our country, including such giants as Nokia. We welcome these contacts and any new projects that may arise in this sphere.
The human dimension and humanitarian ties are as important as economic cooperation. A great deal has been achieved recently in building educational contacts and strong relationships between our universities, and expert communities have been debating a variety of issues, including legal matters. But what is most important for us is to establish a clear legal foundation for contacts between our people.
No less important is our commitment to ensure that interaction between people becomes more comfortable and that they obtain new opportunities for communication. Therefore, one of the most important events at the end of this year will be the opening of a high-speed rail link between St Petersburg and Helsinki.
A state visit is a chance for the guest to see the host state and learn more about its people’s lives. The current visit provides such an opportunity. I am very glad that the visit’s programme includes a trip to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. I hope that our Finnish friends and the President of Finland will have a fresh opportunity to gain an insight into contemporary life in Russia.
Today we discussed both European and international issues. That is natural. We exchanged ideas on various matters, including the development of relations between Russia and the EU and Russia and NATO, talked about the importance of addressing a range of challenges on our agenda, including the visa issue.
In general, we have discussed almost all the issues that presently concern the Finnish and Russian sides. I would like to thank Tarja Halonen and our Finnish partners for constructive talks.
President of Finland Tarja Halonen (retranslated): Thank you very much.
I want to thank you personally and on behalf of our delegation for the constructive and positive conversations and discussions we had today, and to some extent yesterday.
I am sure that the atmosphere will be equally friendly in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, when we arrive there. We, the Finns, would do well to remember that Russia is not just Moscow and the region bordering on our country.
Today's discussions addressed issues pertaining to our special relationship, connected with the fact that our countries are neighbours.
Even from a historical perspective we can say that our relationship is going through a positive and productive period. Finland is very interested in and welcomes the modernisation plans proposed by President Medvedev. For its part, Finland is ready to develop bilateral cooperation and take part in this modernisation.
We will soon sign the joint declaration on cooperation and modernisation, which will contain the details of our contacts in this sphere.
Our company Nokia has already been mentioned, as well as the Skolkovo Innovation Centre. Naturally, we want to take part in this project. And I want to assure the media that Finnish companies are interested in the development of the existing opportunities for cooperation in a broad range of areas.
In the course of our discussion today we repeatedly raised the issues concerning the Baltic Sea, the protection of the Baltic Sea and the use of the opportunities that the sea provides us. I can say that we are satisfied with the outcome of our discussions and the fact that we can continue our cooperation in this regard.
We are also optimistic about the prospects of expanding and deepening our cooperation in the Arctic and in the border regions.
We discussed issues related to the European Union, NATO and OSCE, noting that we will meet again at different venues in the near future.
And I would like to note that Finland is eagerly anticipating the moment when Russia will become a WTO member. Membership in this organisation will benefit both Russia and Finland.
Perhaps there will be questions?
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I am certain of it.
Question: I have a question for the President of Finland. Currently, there are some active discussions of eliminating visas between Russia and the European Union, and certain steps are being taken to make trips easier. What, in your opinion, Russia and the European Union should do to eliminate visa restrictions as quickly as possible?
Tarja Halonen: The European Union and Russia have to agree on the practical steps to be made in order to quickly move forward on this topic, taking into account all the aspects, including security matters. We hope that it will require as little time as possible, but until we have eliminated the visa regime, we, the Finnish side, take a pragmatic stance and make practical steps to improve the situation in the meantime. Finland is accelerating the process of granting visas and issues a very large number of multiple-entry visas, in fact, most of the visas issued by Finnish missions in Russia are multiple-entry visas. This year, we will have granted nearly one million visas in Russia.
Finland is among the European Union nations with a positive attitude toward eliminating visa restrictions, and we are doing everything to ease the process for Russian applicants. Evidently, Russians wishing to receive visas trust our system which is witnessed by the high number of approved visas.
Question (retranslated): I have two questions on migration. We understand that the Russian Federation welcomes foreign businesses, foreign investments, and companies willing to operate here and participate in the modernisation of the Russian economy and society. Nevertheless, such expectations are hindered by local requirements and procedures for migrants’ residence registration in Russia.
We are also aware that the Russian side intends to make certain adjustments to ease these procedures. I am interested in the timeline for adjusting such registration procedures and proceedings, for lifting residence registration requirement either partially or completely. This first question is to the President of Russia.
And my second question is to the President of Finland. How much importance do you attach to these matters? Currently, the flow of people between our countries is growing, many Russians are visiting Finland, and our border checkpoints have just about reached their maximum capacity. What can and should be done in order to improve this situation?
Dmitry Medvedev: As far as migrants’ registration is concerned, I should say we are interested in simplifying it, and not just in the context of developing relations for modernisation purposes, of attracting entrepreneurs and all sorts of specialists from Finland and elsewhere to our country; rather, it is in our interests in general to simplify registration procedures making them less bureaucratic and easier for foreigners.
Unfortunately, we have more than enough bureaucracy for the moment, even though some steps have been taken to simplify migrants’ registration recently. At the same time, I would like to point out that any of such decisions must go hand in hand with respective procedures within the European Union. And although these issues are not interdependent, we nevertheless believe we should be progressing toward visa-free travel. The ultimate result should be an absolutely simplest migrants registration or – in certain cases – the cancellation of such registration and the elimination of visas.
Tarja Halonen: For my part, I can say that in both cases, we need to find the right balance between security and flexibility. The key to this is good governance and effective cooperation. Besides, it is also important to have rapidly functioning contacts and ties. Otherwise, we will end shifting the blame from one government agency onto another. As far as visa issues are concerned, these are based on the reciprocity principle, and here, I hope that we may be able to advance quickly and safely too.
Eliminating visas would require the border control units to be able to quickly verify the aspects that currently get checked when looking at visa applications.
This year, Finland will grant nearly a million visas to Russian nationals, and most of these, up to 80 per cent, will be multiple-entry visas. I believe that Russian citizens, those who apply for visas, already now see our efforts in a positive light. In short, we want to progress toward a visa-free regime, but we do not wish to cause queuing at the border.
I must say that these registration requirements are currently repelling some of our companies, they frighten potential companies that could come to Russia. In this regard, I hope that we will be able to first achieve as flexible a system as possible, and ultimately, the elimination of visas.
Question: A question for Ms Halonen. The truth is that recently, the relations between our countries have been aggravated somewhat by disputes regarding children in Russian-Finnish families. In the last two years, at least four children have been denied the right to live with their Russian mothers and given to their Finnish fathers by Finland’s guardianship agencies. In this regard, don’t you find it may be viewed as some kind of a trend evidencing a certain bias by Finland’s judiciary and guardianship bodies on these matters?
What is your opinion of the Russian idea to sign a bilateral agreement on family matters and set some advisory body for settling such disputes?
Tarja Halonen: Regarding our relations in this area, I would like to first say that Finland is home to over 40 thousand people of Russian origin or whose first language is Russian. Finnish and Russian people meet, fall in love, and get married, and some of those marriages fall apart. Both Finland and Russia have fairly strong traditions that after a divorce, the child or children’s upbringing is entrusted to the mother.
But recently, Finnish fathers have become more active in this regard, and following a divorce, many of them either want custody of the child or the opportunity to participate significantly in the lives of their children.
We, the Presidents, cannot possibly look into every separate family conflict of this kind at out meetings. Thus, it is good that the designated competent authorities of our countries have already established sound and close cooperation. We have already agreed that in March of next year, we will hold a joint Finnish-Russian seminar to be attended by representatives of social development and justice ministries to jointly address the concerns and problems of this kind.
As for my personal opinion on the subject, in the past, I was Finland’s Foreign Minister, Social Security Minister and Justice Minister as well, hence based on my experience, I would say that I trust these ministries, the ministers, officials and employees of those ministries. I believe that they will give very serious attention to such matters and will examine them very thoroughly. Nevertheless, I cannot predict now what the outcomes of such examinations may be.
Question (retranslated): My question is addressed to the President of Russia and concerns modernisation. How important do you consider the development of other areas of Russia’s public life in order to promote the advancement of the economy and to attract investments into Russia? And in this regard, I would like to refer to the recent unfortunate events – the violence against Russian journalists and in the North Caucasus, as well as the state of the opposition in Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: Concerning modernisation, I can say that changes in economic life and the economic principles can only be made by free people, those who are free in their actions and thoughts. In general, innovation means creativity and modernising economy also requires creativity. Thus, without liberating people, without employing human potential, nothing can be accomplished. That is precisely why we must improve not economic life alone, but our political institutions as well, and that, incidentally, was the subject the President of Finland and I discussed yesterday.
As for one of the unfortunate recent events that involved an attack on a Russian journalist, I made some very straightforward statements on this matter yesterday and my position has not changed in the last 24 hours. You can find my statements in the media and on the Internet.
Tarja Halonen: For my part, I would like to say that over the course of this day, and perhaps even more so yesterday evening, we discussed the very question of what modernisation is and what it encompasses. This is a kind of big, complicated, but necessary process of change which only Russians themselves can accomplish, but in cases where we can offer our support, our assistance, and our experience, we will do so with pleasure.
Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly certainly play a major role in these matters. Mr Medvedev has already answered those questions in his previous comments. Yes, we support Russia’s efforts.