Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived with a visit to Finland. He will discuss a wide range of issues with Tarja Halonen, from big politics to economics and visas. They may also discuss numerous family scandals involving mixed Russian-Finnish families.
In recent years, Finland has been one of the main partners of Russia in Europe. It is evident from the fact that the presidents and prime ministers of both countries meet several times a year. Each time they have a vast agenda. The present negotiations held in the suburban residence of the leader of Finland Kultaranta will not be an exception.
Economy is the engine of the Russian-Finnish cooperation. Russia is the largest trading partner of the “country of thousand lakes.” Even during 2009 crisis the trade volume between the two countries amounted to over $13 billion, and was $20 billion before the crisis.
The two countries are implementing several major projects. Earlier this year, Finland (after more than four years of contemplation) has given its final approval for the installation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in its territorial waters. The development of relations in the energy sector gained new momentum.
Finland is especially significant for Russia. Over the past 50 years the northern neighbor of Russia has turned from a relatively underdeveloped country into a highly developed one. Hi-tech products today make up the bulk of the Finnish exports.
At the same time, some disagreements on the issue of export of Russian wood are still present between Russia and Finland. Helsinki is not satisfied with the introduction of export duties on unprocessed timber (roundwood) by the Russian party and their repeated increases. This was the reason why Finland had been blocking the process of Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization for several years.
The Finnish government has its own interest. The majority of the pulp, paper and woodworking industries use Russian wood. However, the presence of extensive Finnish market has motivated a number of unscrupulous Russian entrepreneurs to engage in illegal logging. As a result, stumps can be often seen in place of dense thickets in the north-west Russia.
The parties managed to reach a compromise. Russia imposed a moratorium on raising taxes on the export of wood, and Finland withdrew its opposition to Russia’s membership in the WTO. However, the issue has not been completely withdrawn from the agenda, and is on the program of the talks of the two leaders.
For millions of Russians and hundreds of thousands of Finns, the topic of the abolition of visas between Russia and the EU is of special interest. Given that Finland has the longest border with Russia among all EU members, its opinion in the discussion of this issue means a lot. Until now, it was not too difficult to obtain a Finnish visa, but the Finnish leadership refused to call a specific date of abolition of visas. The negotiations on this issue are unlikely to be simple.
Objectively, the Finnish side seems to be interested in the abolition of visas. Russians traditionally occupy the first place in terms of the number of foreign tourists visiting the country. However, the Finnish media keeps publishing “horror stories” stating that if the borders are opened, nearly half of St. Petersburg will move to Finland, and the country will be flooded with crime. The government has to take such concerns into account, no matter how strange they may sound.
Among the global international issues, the Russian side intends to discuss a new treaty on European security. On the one hand, the Finnish authorities seem to be favorable to this idea. On the other hand, while preserving the non-aligned status, Finland has been cooperating with NATO increasingly more. The country has been participating in the exercises and maneuvers conducted under the auspices of the Bloc. Now and again there are talks about the country’s need to enter the Alliance. And for Russia that has 1300-kilometer border with Finland, it is essential whether its northern neighbor remains a neutral state.
However, “family matters” have become, perhaps, the most sensitive issue in bilateral relations in recent years. There had never been that many scandals involving mixed Russian-Finnish families. We still hear about the story of the abduction of Anton Salonen, whose Finnish dad (with the help of staff consulate in St. Petersburg) brought him to Finland in the trunk of his company car. The boy’s Russian mom tried to return the child, but was detained by the Finnish authorities and received probation.
There is also the story of seven-year old Robert Rantala. Social services in Finland removed him from his family after he told his friends that his mother spanked him. The child did not want to live apart from his Russian mother and Finish father, but the officials had a different opinion. A similar incident happened with a daughter of a Russian citizen Valentina Putkonen. The girl tried to escape from the orphanage, but was caught by police and returned to the establishment.
Children's Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said in this regard that, altogether, social services in Finland took 12 thousand children from their parents. In most cases it happened against the will of the kids. However, the Finnish authorities have no intentions to abolish the law allowing to constantly resort to such measures. They are also impeding the signing of the contract with Russia for assistance and cooperation in family and civil matters.
Thus, negotiations between Dmitry Medvedev and Tarja Halonen are expected to be highly charged. Roundwood, visas, Euro-Atlantic security issues and family matters – these are four issues that, in some way, tarnish the overall good relations between the two countries. This is why it is the intention of the Russian side to carefully discuss them.