Russia and Finland to discuss bilateral relations and the situation in the Baltic sea


RIA Novosti

The Minister of foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov on Thursday during a working visit to Finland will hold talks with the foreign Minister of the country Timo Soini. The Ministers will discuss bilateral relations, regional agenda, including security issues in the Baltic and international issues.

During the visit, Lavrov also plans to meet with President of Finland Sauli Niinistö.

Regular dialogue

Sergei Lavrov and Timo Soini maintain regular contact: in 2015 they have already held several meetings, including on the sidelines of 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly in new York and the session of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade. The previous visit of the foreign Minister of the Russian Federation in Finland took place in 2015, his Finnish colleague called for a return visit to Moscow in June 2016.

The current Lavrov’s visit to Finland will host nearly a month after a meeting of leaders of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinistö in Arkhangelsk in the framework of the forum “Arctic — territory of dialogue”.

As noted in the Russian foreign Ministry on the eve of the talks Lavrov and Soini, “Russian-Finnish relations are in a good condition”.

Bilateral relations

Announcing Lavrov’s visit to Finland, the official representative of Russian foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that Ministers will “continue an engaged dialogue on topical issues of bilateral regional agenda”.

While in Moscow, noted that a constructive approach in building such a dialogue allowed of the Russian Federation and Finland “greatly restrict” the influence of “the destructive policy pursued by the EU.”

Does not prevent pragmatic partnership and the fact that Finland is a neutral state since the end of world war II — one of the five most advanced partners of the Alliance (along with Australia, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden), and the government “reserves the right to seek membership in NATO.” During his visit to Finland in July of 2016, Vladimir Putin said that Moscow will respect any choice made by Helsinki in this matter.

However, according to surveys, the entry of Finland into NATO speaks only about a quarter of the population, against about half. These figures remained stable for more than ten years.

However, experts point to one “controversial” step of Helsinki, which in the future may become an irritant in bilateral relations. Talking about being created in Finland, the European centre for countering hybrid threats. It needs to become a platform for cooperation between the EU and NATO to prevent such threats, among the founders of the center — USA, UK, Baltic countries. It is not excluded that Russia may raise the question about the prospects of activities of the centre at the talks on Thursday, experts say.

Economic partnership is on the rise again

The economy is one of the most actual directions of bilateral cooperation. Russia is among the three leading trade partners of Finland, while in 2016, managed to stop the process of decline in trade, which was observed in 2014. Moreover, in the first months of 2017, the volume of trade increased by almost 60% to $ 1.8 billion. The largest Russian project in Finland — the cost is estimated at more than EUR 5 billion — is the construction of NPP “Hanhikivi-1” Finnish company “Fennovoima” with the participation of Rosatom. Start of production of electricity at the plant is scheduled for 2024.

The volume of accumulated Russian direct investment in Finland for the first three quarters of 2016 amounted to $ 2.7 billion. There are about three thousand companies with Russian capital, most of whom work in the field of trade, consultancy, transport, logistics and tourism. The last direction of Russian-Finnish cooperation is developing most actively: according to Rosstat, in 2016, visited Finland more than 2.8 million Russians, and the Russian Federation in 2016 — more than 1.3 million tourists from Finland. Indicators of inbound tourism to Russia, Finland at the end of 2016 is in the first place.

Of course, the expansion of economic ties should be the responsibility of the bilateral intergovernmental Commission on economic cooperation. However, experts do not exclude that some of its aspects will be discussed at the upcoming meeting of Lavrov and Soini. Including, perhaps, the prospects of the gas pipeline “Nord stream-2”.

To implement the project operator, Nord Stream AG 2, it is necessary to obtain permits from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Finland the application for such permission will be filed in the third quarter of this year.

International issues

Moscow and Helsinki have an active political dialogue on topical international problems. The leaders of the countries in the course of telephone conversations and personal contacts to discuss a settlement in Syria, the situation in Ukraine and security issues in the Baltic sea region. As noted in the Ministry of foreign Affairs of Finland, these issues are scheduled for discussion during the Ministerial meeting on Thursday. The experts in this regard, note that the “Baltic question”, namely the development of mechanisms aviation security in the region, could become one of the main negotiations.

The idea of a ban on military flights over the Baltic sea off the transponders was first proposed by the President of Finland in July 2016. Moscow actively supported this idea and were ready to discuss it on various levels with the countries-members of NATO. However, Brussels is not yet ready for such a dialogue, stated previously, the permanent representative of Russia to NATO Alexander Grushko.

“Today the main problem lies in the fact that the development of this theme is the translation of a discussion on the military expert level. NATO is not ready for this, considering the establishment of any working group under the auspices of the NRC (Council Russia — NATO) as the return to business as usual (business as usual – ed.)”, — said Grushko.

At the end of March, the President of Finland, speaking at the Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk, thanked the Russian counterpart for support of the idea of flying with transponders and for the fact that Russia has equipped their military aircraft in the Baltic.

Russia and Finland “cooperated” with the UN and other international institutions, as well as in regional formats, such as the Council of Baltic sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council region, Northern dimension, Arctic Council.

Helsinki will take chairmanship of the Arctic Council during the Ministerial session, to be held on 11 may 2017 in Fairbanks (Alaska, USA). There “on the sidelines of the Ministerial Council” can take place the meeting of Sergey Lavrov and his American colleague Rex Tillerson.