12 november, 2008 14:00  

Vladimir Putin held talks with Finland’s Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen


"Finland is without any exaggeration one of our most important partners in Europe. Not only because we are neighbours, but also because the figures of our trade turnover suggest this. Our statistics show that in the first six months of this year Russia also became Finland's top partner, ahead of Germany."

Transcript of Opening Remarks:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Mr Prime Minister. I am very glad to see you in Moscow.

Finland is without any exaggeration one of our most important partners in Europe. Not only because we are neighbours, but also because the figures of our trade turnover suggest this. Our statistics show that in the first six months of this year Russia also became Finland's top partner, ahead of Germany. We have many questions to discuss, our relations are diverse, and we are very glad to see you in Moscow to consider both current and future issues.

You are welcome.

Matti Vanhanen (as translated): Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister. For my part, I cannot help noting that I am very glad that we have arranged this meeting.

The current global economy and a host of other questions provide a strong incentive to look at how we as neighbours can cooperate and progress.

As you noted, in the first six months of 2008, Russia became Finland's top trading partner. The past few years have seen a steady increase in trade with Russia. Our trade turnover may grow, but a greater diversification in our relations and further cooperation in new fields are prerequisites. I am thinking specifically of high technologies.

* * *

Vladimir Putin and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen held a joint news conference on the results of their talks.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to briefly describe the talks we had today.

I would start with thanking Mr Vanhanen and all my Finnish colleagues for the job we have done together today, and expressing satisfaction with our talks, which have confirmed once again that Russian-Finnish relations are excellent. Our political, trade, economic and cultural ties are becoming closer. Bilateral trade exceeded $11 billion in the first six months of the year. Russia has outrun Germany to become Finland's principal foreign trade partner because friendship and neighbourly confidence have determined our relations for many decades.

The talks have shown once again that Russia and Finland are determined to make further progress along the road of partnership. We have come to an agreement on extending Finland's lease of the Russian stretch of the Saimen Canal, and have already coordinated a relevant treaty.

Naturally, today's exchange of opinions took stock of the global financial problems. We are convinced that Russia and Finland should retain the high level of their business partnership, and we regard this goal as a tangible contribution to sustainable economic development.

Russia and Finland are extensively cooperating in production, high technologies, nanotechnologies, industrial parks and transport infrastructure development. Russia has always been Finland's reliable partner in energy-a point Mr Vanhanen reiterated once again today. We have confirmed all our plans and intentions in this vital field of partnership, and expressed shared interest in implementing major projects of a European scope.

We have also spotlighted progress in the construction of superfast railway links between St Petersburg and Helsinki. By 2010, the trip will take three and a half hours, at the longest. The Russian Government has allocated 27 billion roubles-that is, over 700 million Euros-on modernising the railway line.

Issues on our agenda included improving the border infrastructure. The most important problem to solve is queues at checkpoints. We intend to introduce a computerised customs declaration on January 1, 2009-to begin with as a pilot project. Russia has been working on this innovation for nearly ten years as it promises to put an end to a criminal practice known as "dual accounting" and speed up freight clearing. In particular, we expect to arrive at mutually acceptable decisions soon through bringing car imports into order.

Russia has ambitious plans to improve the work of customs and other border officials. As I have said to Mr Vanhanen, I might visit the Russian-Finnish border soon to see for myself how these plans are implemented.

We discussed partnership in the timber industry in great detail. Russia is interested in using its forests to full effect instead of exporting rough timber. I think everyone understands the point.

Our efforts in this sphere are not intended to harm anyone but only to develop Russia's economy. We cannot but be aware, however, of the present state of the global economy and finance. We know that the global financial and economic crisis might reduce Russian industrial exports to Finland and so deepen the crisis and unemployment there. That is why the Russian Government considers it possible to postpone the next rise of rough timber customs duties for 9 to12 months. This will concern all timber exports.

I would like to stress one point here: Russia has not given up its intention to establish its own timber processing industry. As I have said, we will keep down the present customs duties, as introduced in April 2008, for another 9 to 12 months. We will also offer a package of extra financial incentives for investments in Russian timber processing industry to Finnish and other potential partners, whom we will invite to take part in the job.

We have also determined to step up the activities of the Russian-Finnish intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation, and scheduled its next meeting for the start of next year.

In conclusion, I thank Mr Vanhanen for today's constructive dialogue and goodwill in seeking solutions to practical problems on a mutually acceptable and beneficial basis.

Thank you.

Matti Vanhanen (as translated): Good afternoon,

Finland strives to step up and expand cooperation with Russia at every level. This work and this goal are becoming increasingly relevant at this time of the global economic crisis. In this situation, we must take advantage of every opportunity for expanding investment and trade.

We are attach special significance to Mr Putin's statement about Russia's readiness to put off raising timber-export duties for a certain time period. This is a critical decision in the present economic situation.

This will give us extra time enabling timber-industry companies to find their own solutions and to chart long-term production expansion plans. Russia and the European Union will also have more time for additional talks on the customs-duties issue. Moreover, the Russian side will have time to appreciate the firm commitment of Finnish companies to expanding cooperation with Russia and to investing in the Russian economy.

Finland and Russia are both forest powers, so to say, and we have decided to hold a high-level summit involving forest-sector professionals and organisations.

There are also plans to hold a similar event in the sphere of transport and logistics. Our two countries view logistics as an important sector. By implementing joint projects, we can reduce transportation costs.

We have also said today that an online customs declaration network will be commissioned in January 2009. Naturally, the online customs declaration and customs data exchange network will reduce customs clearance time. Moreover, the it will help achieve another goal mentioned by Mr Putin today: dealing with "double accounts" and other customs violations.

Mr Putin has already named all other issues examined by us today.

Thank you. 

Question: Mr Putin, President Medvedev said that the Presidential term should be extended to six years. How would you comment on the rumours that you might become the Russian President again?

Vladimir Putin: There is nothing personal about President Medvedev's initiative to introduce constitutional amendments. As we know, it is part of a package of measures to streamline public administration. We are seeking tools to guarantee the sovereignty of implementing our plans, patterns that would promote Russia's democratic development, not undermine it. The Finnish Presidential term is six years, as far as I know, so Mr Medvedev has not suggested anything sensational. France had a seven-year presidential term for several decades. I support President Medvedev's initiative.

As for who might run for Presidency, it is too early to discuss now. I think both the Russian public and our foreign partners have seen the effectiveness of Russian public administration on its present patterns, and it is too early to speak about future elections now.

Question: Have you discussed Nord Stream construction-in particular, from the perspective of Russian-Finnish partnership as United Europe sees it?

Vladimir Putin: The matter was certainly discussed. Mr Vanhanen paid special attention to relevant environmental problems. As we know, Nord Stream company spent a record-setting amount of over $100 million on environmental research. As we have agreed between us, all interested Finnish agencies will receive exhaustive information on the issue quite soon. The decision will be up to relevant Finnish organisations-government agencies and, I expect, public organisations-because we intend to keep in close contact with environmental organisations on a wide range of relevant issues.

I want to add only one thing-that Russia is not interested in the project any more than West European consumers. I am sure, Finland as a responsible member of the European Community will act in concert with the others in pursuance of shared European interests.

Matti Vanhanen (as translated): Our discussion was fruitful and comprehensive. As to your question, I said at the negotiating table that Finland's position is a follows: Central Europe wants Russian natural gas, which will be supplied via this pipeline. When we discuss Finland's authorisation to build this pipeline, we will consider the issue from the point of view of the environment and in conformity with our environmental protection legislation. As far as we know, Nord Stream will provide environmental experts' conclusions and other relevant documents in January or February 2009. We will regard the matter as urgent after we receive all those documents.

Sea bottom cables and pipelines have been laid not only in the Baltic but also worldwide. I think the latest high technologies will cope with the gas pipeline.

Finland is satisfied with energy relations with Russia, on the whole. We are pleased with our long-established partnership-in particular, natural gas and other energy supplies. Russia has been importing gas to Finland for 35 years now without any problems or stoppages.

The Russian Energy Minister suggested during today's talks that an ad hoc expert team be established to analyse the effectiveness of energy use, and we gladly agreed.

Vladimir Putin: We have taken great many things into consideration: stones, seals, birds, ships, sea bottom cables, weapons left over from World War II, and so on.

Europe should make up its mind whether it needs Russian gas in the amount it has suggested, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, we will not lay the pipeline but will build gas liquefying plants instead and export liquefied gas. That's all there is to it.

We are highly responsible in those matters, but we cannot develop on our own, and we do not intend to do so. It will be a shared decision; a responsible decision with due account for global energy and European economic prospects. We will work with our European partners very constructively.

I want to make it understood: we are not lobbying the decision, and we do not need it more than our clients in Europe. If they don't want a pipeline, then the world, including Europe, will get our liquefied gas by tankers. This arrangement would be far more expensive, however. Make the calculations yourselves. They are easy.