3 june, 2009 21:04  

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen have held a joint press conference after the Russian-Finnish intergovernmental talks


Matti Vanhanen (as translated): Mr. Prime Minister, We have had a very thorough discussion. I have counted that we have discussed 25 different topics. The current economic crisis has hit hard both our countries. From this we conclude that we should jointly seek measures to improve the situation. 

I will briefly mention some of the main topics we have discussed during our talk. We have discussed at length the issues connected with the forestry sector. Everybody knows the outstanding questions in this area. We shall continue this talk and cooperation. As of today, there is no news. A structural reform is under way in the forestry sector which in particular affects the zone of northern boreal forests.

We have also discussed energy issues beginning from transborder power transmission tariffs and ending with the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

As for the Nord Stream gas pipeline, Finland is in the process of assessing its environmental impact. WHO statements should be ready by the end of June. The process involves securing a number of approvals: in particular, the permit under the law on the economic zone. The decision is to be made by the State Council of Finland and it is expected in September-October, most probably at the end of September.

We have also widely discussed gas policy in Europe, the gas issue with Ukraine and the related European issues. Finland has said it is interested in two major projects being implemented or planned in Russia. The first has to do with energy projects in the Barents Sea and the second with the Sochi Olympics.

As for the agreement on the lease of the Russian part of the Saimen Channel, the parties have stated that the content of the agreement has been agreed and remaining technical issues are to be finalized by the end of summer.

We have also discussed cargo carriage between Russia and Finland, including the carriage of containers. Last year 200,000 containers were carried via Finland, of which 7,000 by rail. Therefore the question arises of shifting these large containers to rail or marine transport.

From the ecological point of view this is the right move, but it takes some time to ready all the capacity and infrastructure. In other words, all the technical prerequisites must be in place.

We have had a wide-ranging discussion of the Baltic Sea. I thanked Russia for its active role as the president of the Helsinki Commission {for the protection of the marine environment in the Baltic region}, Helcom. The issue will definitely remain on the agenda of our cooperation.

I have conveyed to Prime Minister Putin an invitation to go fishing in the Gulf of Finland in a year from now perhaps.

We have also discussed the issues connected with work permits and registration of migrants. We have spoken about reciprocity in the purchase and sale of land. On that issue, Prime Minister Putin has explained to us the rules and procedures that exist in Russia.

I have also briefed Prime Minister Putin that the Finnish Government has adopted its first Russia Action Programme. In general, Finland is committed to expanding and deepening cooperation with Russia in every way and in every area. As part of that programme a forum will be created under the leadership and chairmanship of the Prime Minister.

Last year Russia became our top trade partner, which is added proof of Russia's importance for us.

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

Today, we have really conducted very meaningful and constructive talks.

Last year, we had a record trade turnover. Needless to say, it has gone down in the first quarter of this year due to the difficulties experienced by the world economy. Nonetheless, we consider the development of our bilateral relations rather positive.

During many previous years, we have learned to consider and respect mutual interests in bilateral relations.

Allow me to recall that during Mr Prime Minister's visit to Moscow, duties on exports of rough wood were frozen at the request of the Finnish side. We also met our Finnish partners halfway and reopened the Torfyanovka international checkpoint to commercial vehicle transport traffic. There are other examples of mutual concessions.

It goes without saying that we are hoping that this will be a two-way street. Obviously, today we must adapt trade and economic contacts to the global economic realities. We must concentrate on the most advantageous directions of our cooperation, such as energy, transport, the timber sector, and a range of arctic technologies, including ship building. Maybe, the latter should come first. The energy sphere includes supply of hydrocarbons, nuclear power engineering, the power plant industry, renewable energy sources, and so on.

Obviously, we discussed the procedures which we expect our Finnish partners to complete so that a route of the Nord Stream pipeline on the bed of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea could be finally determined.

It goes without saying that Finland will make its sovereign decision based on its interests and with the account of all problems linked with the implementation of this project on laying a gas pipeline from Russia to our European consumers.

We will treat any decision with respect.

At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that this is not a bilateral Russian-German project. This is a multi-lateral European project involving the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and eventually Britain as a potential consumer of our gas, as well as some other European countries.

Mr Prime Minister has just said that Russia ranks first in trade with Finland. To my knowledge, Germany is Finland's second trade and economic partner. You know, I don't see any reason because of which we would not be allowed to receive permission to lay this pipeline in Finland's economic zone, all the more so since this project does not infringe on Finnish interests in any way. I mean it - in any way.

As for environmental protection, everything which could be done in this sphere will be certainly accomplished to the global top standards. We are aware of the urgency of the problem linked with the resolution of issues in the economy's timber sector. We have agreed to continue discussing these problems at a bilateral summit in Russia. We hope that the forthcoming forum will allow us to draft a strategic plan of joint action in the timber sector. We have paid the necessary attention to the functioning of the border agencies, development of the infrastructure, and other issues, which our governments are constantly keeping an eye on. These are the spheres in which our governments are working to rid our trade and economic contacts of red tape.

I would like to thank Mr Prime Minister and all Finnish colleagues who took part in our current meetings for their hospitality and for very constructive discussion of all items on the agenda.

Thank you (in Finnish).

* * *

Question: My question concerns the Nord Stream gas pipeline, and consists of several parts. I address the first to Mr Vanhanen. Are you sure the final decision authorising its construction will be obtained? This decision is expected in September or October. Have I got it right? I am asking it merely to verify my information.

My other question is to Mr Putin. Russian-Ukrainian controversies break out one after another. Do they prove that Nord Stream construction should be paced up? Ukraine has said today, as far as we know, that it has found some money for gas purchases. Has the controversy been settled or will it go on?

Matti Vanhanen: As for Nord Stream, Finland understands fully that Central Europe needs natural gas, so this is a vital project. Pipelines built in many parts of the world-some of them on the sea bottom-and similar to Nord Stream to varying extents are of strategic importance. Such a pipeline as Nord Stream can be built if it complies with all environmental regulations. This is my conviction.

Its tentative impact on the environment has been estimated in detail, and the decision of whether it is environment-friendly enough will proceed from this estimate. In fact, we need three permits.

The first, so-called environmental permit, is necessary to destroy 31 old mines long lying on the sea bottom. I think it will take precedence.

Another permit concerns the use of Finland's economic zone, and depends on its State Council. We expect the problem to appear on the September or October agenda.

Last but not least comes environmental authorities' permit, which should comply with Finland's Water Code. It is the principal permit, though all the three must be obtained.

Nord Stream is a major and highly complicated project, which should comply with environmental regulations. As my colleague has said, the company has done everything necessary to do the whole job correctly. It has explored the bottom relief, and so on.

Vladimir Putin: When we were discussing the problem today, I received the impression that Mr Vanhanen knew it much better than I did. I think he has counted the mines and touched each with his hands.

I can add only that it is dangerous to have un-defused mines about. It would be wise to dispose of them, pipeline or no pipeline.

I want to say also that the parties to the project are ready to put up with any route Finland deems preferable, whether south or north of Gogland. The chosen pipe laying technology does not require digging in. The partners on the project are even determined to have a special vessel that would not drop anchor when the pipe is laid not to disturb sea-floor sediments. In short, they have done everything they should.

As I see it, the matter revolves now only round the wish of Finland and our other European partners to get gas from Russia at reasonable prices or receive it liquefied via third parties.

As for your question about Ukrainian solvency, a bad economic crisis is on, and it has affected all of us. Possibly, the Ukrainian economy is suffering from it more than any other. So Russia is not gloating when Ukraine cannot afford to pay it-but Russia, in its turn, cannot afford to put up with its arrears.

Ukraine has two problems to settle for today-guarantee imports for its current needs and pay for gas to be pumped into underground storages-or its economy will not survive the cold season.

Ukraine consumes gas to $200 million a month. In principle, it pays for this amount.

Pumping costs $500 million a month-which makes $5 billion through October. That is where the big problem lies, and we propose to settle it together with the European Union.

All our appeals to the European Commission have been to no avail yet. "We have no money to spare for Ukraine," is the answer it repeats again and again.

What might follow in compliance with the available contracts? Gazprom has the right to demand advance payments after even a single postponed instalment. Gas supplies will stop as soon as Ukraine refuses to pay in advance. Gazprom will supply only the amount paid for in advance-but, mind you, Ukraine will not survive without gas in its underground storages. It will have to pump gas out of the export pipe, and it cannot be blamed. It has no other way out.

I brought the problem to the fore when I was talking to our European partners, and I asked them not to abandon us to cope with it single-handed. The controversy may arise, and we warn about it. If things take this turn, Russian gas transits may come to a full stop at the end of June or the beginning of July.

We must do something urgently, and all together. As for Nord Stream construction, it should really be paced up.

Question: I want to ask Mr Putin about timber customs duties. Have previous rises of lumber export duties benefited Russia? Have they helped to increase investment in your country?

Vladimir Putin: Yes, they have. As you know, the potential investor in this economic sphere as in any other should see what profit his investment will bring, and when. If one can receive raw materials as cheap as possible, or even free, why should one arrange production in Russia? If the situation does not change, the raw material orientation of the Russian economy will persist.

It is the Russian Government's duty to organise production implying large added value. Our Government does not differ from any other Government in the world in this respect-which does not mean that we can act spontaneously, be unpredictable, make headlong moves, and damage our long-established partners.

But then, we advertised our plans many years ago. We changed our decision when the global crisis aroused new problems, and we have met our Finnish partners halfway.

There is another factor I want you to see.

The global economy demands certain industries concentrated where they are the most lucrative. This particular instance concerns Latin America, Asia and the countries that make extensive use not only of their climate but also of the latest genetic engineering achievements. We should think all together how to meet these global challenges instead of coaxing each other to put off relevant decision-making for another year or at least half a year. Administrative measures do not work to solve the problem cardinally. We have agreed to continue the discussion.

Question: I am also addressing both Prime Ministers. As you both have said, bilateral trade has shrunken almost by a half within several months, mainly due to the energy price slump. Which economic branches will help to cure the matter? In particular, as we know, Finland intends to build a nuclear plant of its own. Will this or any other industry develop during the crisis? Thank you.

Matti Vanhanen: Our trade is doomed to deteriorate during the global economic crisis. It has made a majority of industries of the world use a mere half of their potential. But then, another global economic boom will replace the crisis eventually, and Russian-Finnish relations will improve, I am sure.

I regard the many branches of technology as the crucial fields of those relations. Their importance should spread to all technologies. Russia is generously investing in the development of nanotechnologies, which it leads. Finland finds them highly promising. But then, our contacts should spread to the fields that closely concern the public-consumer services, trade and tourism.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Vanhanen is quite right. High technologies certainly dominate our bilateral relations. This directly concerns energy industry. Russian companies are among Finnish thermal power plants' suppliers. Our partnership is quite smooth in electric energy in general, and has good prospects in nuclear energy.

Mr Vanhanen has mentioned several economic fields not connected with energy. We have discussed them in detail today, too.

As you know, a relevant Finnish centre has opened in St Petersburg quite recently. We will support its work in every possible way. We have discussed what more should be done to promote partnership in those spheres.

Services, transport and tourism are traditional fields of neighbours' concern, and they account for a sizeable part of the gross domestic product. The matter has been on our agenda today.

Question: My question to Mr Putin concerns human relations. There is a controversy round a minor between Finland and Russia after a Finnish father has taken the child from his Russian wife and smuggled him out of Russia in a Finnish diplomat's car without notifying relevant Russian and Finnish authorities.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry has not made any explicit statements on the matter. Mr Putin, what steps does Russia intend to take? Will they be political or any other? Do you think they might affect Russian-Finnish relations? And another question: does Russia intend to join the Hague Convention?

Vladimir Putin: The world knows many such controversies that pertain to the private international law. These are extremely involved matters, and human dramas and tragedies underlie them.

We can only sympathise with those people and wish them to settle such problems sparing their children.

As far as I know, the child's mother, a Russian citizen, has taken the boy from Finland to Russia. I do not think this is a place to make legal evaluation of her conduct. What followed was extraordinary-just think, a child and his father leaving Russia in the boot of a diplomatic car!

You have said that the Finnish citizen took his child away in a diplomatic car. That is wrong-he was taken out together with his son. You have said it was done without notifying authorities. What does it mean as applied to a diplomat? We have heard that he was guided by human feelings. It might be so. But then, if he ignores his office and puts his own ideas of human feelings above his diplomatic duty, he would make a better parson than a public officer, let alone a diplomat. Why shouldn't he start a new career in the Church?

You have asked me what Russia intends to do about it. You might be amazed to learn that I heard about the controversy only after my arrival to Finland-to be more precise, I was told about it when my plane was landing in Helsinki. To tell the truth, I don't know what the Foreign Ministry intends to do about it.

It is evident, however, that when diplomatic officers do such things as they want to help one private person or two, they undermine international confidence and do damage to millions of people.

As for your hint that Russia should ratify the relevant convention, there is warped logic behind it-as if such things could be tolerable in Russia merely because it has not signed a convention.

In the field of the international humanitarian law, not all European countries have joined all international acts and covenants concerning the rights of migrants, ethnic minorities, languages, etc. What of that? It does not mean, after all, that we should act outside the rules of civilised conduct when we use tools in possession of particular government services.

Open-hearted neighbourly relations have taken shape between Russia and Finland, and between their populations, within the preceding decades. There relations are surely a value to be cherished and protected. If problems arise in the private sphere-in families, they can be put up with, and the people concerned should get help. It is inadmissible, however, to involve public services and servants in such controversies.

Matti Vanhanen: At present, Finland has nine unsettled issues concerning child abduction. Russia is involved in two of them. Such instances always imply passionate parental feelings. Certainly, such issues should be settled between countries, and imply legal proceedings because, as I see it, we will lend in a deadlock if we make it a political tug-of-war, and test who is the stronger. In such instances, each of the parties naturally seeks to protect its own interests and nationals. When such tug-of-war spreads to the press, it also arouses strong undesirable emotions but cannot do anything else.

That was why I requested Mr Putin for Russia to analyse the prospects of joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. That would give us a legal basis to settle such controversies.

Even when parents divorce, the child must have the right to have contacts with the mother and the father. Even when such controversies arise between countries, this right must be guaranteed.

When Mr Putin raised the issue during our meeting, he was speaking not from the humanitarian point but from the point of the Finnish diplomat's conduct. I told him about the Finnish party's arguments-the diplomat did not see any other way out of the predicament. I said also that Finland was extremely serious about the Vienna Conventions and diplomatic rights and duties, and was determined to abide by the law in every respect. As for our bilateral relations, I am happy that we have the opportunity to discuss this particular issue, and be outspoken about it.