Russia and Finland. Where do we go from here?
This August, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Finland to meet his Finnish colleague Sauli Niinistö. During their meeting, both parties discussed, among other things, such topics as trade and economic cooperation, development of the Arctic region, the situation in Ukraine as well as a few others. What areas of cooperation between our countries seem to be the most promising though? It is expected that one of the fruitful areas of our partnership will most likely be introduction of innovations in the field of environmental protection and landfill reclamation.
Five years ago,Finland, as well as other European countries, made a decision to support the sanctions imposed on Russia for the Crimea events. The President of Finland has no doubt that these restrictive measures are well-deserved and they "will remain intact until Moscow changes its attitude towards the subject which caused their imposition in the first place”.
As per Sauli Niinistö, ”These sanctions were induced by the Russian actions. As long as the attitude or position does not change, the sanctions will remain the way are now.”
However, unlike the rulers of the other Western countries, Niinistö from the very beginning of this Russian-Western political crisis, advised all the parties to listen to each other. The President of the Republic of Finland tried to convince everyone that being in touch with the other side of the conflict and keep negotiating was the key to maintaining peace. Finnish President was often criticised for his opinion by both Brussels (the capital of Belgium, which houses the headquarters of the European Commission, the executive of the EU) and his own fellow countrymen. Despite that, Niinistö remained adamant.
He kept saying, "The EU cannot forbid me from maintaining contact with Vladimir Putin and meeting him.”
The President of Finland was the one who managed to insist on continuing cooperation with Rosatom (which is currently building a nuclear power plant in Finland). Leaders of Russia and Finland maintain regular communications, which has affected relations between our countries in a number of positive ways - for instance, Gazprom was permitted to build the Nord Stream 2 in the exclusive economic zone of Finland. Finland, most likely, has also contributed to the restoration of rights of the Russian delegation in the PACE.
These days, when the other countries’ rulers have started communicating with Putin on a regular basis - Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, is one obvious example - it is getting clear that this approach is the most balanced, at least in the context of economic sanctions. It is also quite unlikely that Sauli Niinistö will change his attitude towards our country. Nonetheless, relationship between our countries will hardly improve until the restrictive measures against Russia have been lifted or tamped down.
In 2018, the turnover between Russia and Finland increased by almost 20% - to 14.7 billion US dollars. Exports from Russia constitutes approximately three quarters of the total figure, while mineral products account for about 65% of the country exports. Imports from Finland is mostly machinery and equipment (almost half of imported goods).
The upward trend has made it possible for Finland to move from 15th to 13th place in the list of trade partners. As for Russia, it is still the third most important Finland’s partner.
As Vladimir Putin mentioned during the press conference in Finland, ”The back-to-back investments have now exceeded seven billion dollars, and over seven thousand Finnish companies maintain business contacts with Russian enterprises. The turnover between our countries is growing and major projects are being implemented.”
The prospects for economic cooperation seem to be promising and business entities of both countries are favouring the restoration of old, trusting relationships. The only obstacle, but a serious one, on the way to achieve this kind of relations is a possible decline of oil prices, as oil has been traditionally a significant part of our exports.
Culture and tourism
Despite the sanctions, humanitarian contacts and cultural ties between Russia and Finland are developing intensively.
As was noted by Vladimir Putin, ”The number of tourist exchanges between our countries remains constantly high. Last year, about 3.5 million Russians visited Finland and about one million Finnish citizens visited Russia.”
Some of the main topics discussed by Finnish and Russian Presidents, during their meeting, were environmental protection and waste recycling. Some important steps in the right direction have been already done as well as some plans for future were outlined - they are mostly related to the exchange of experience regarding minimisation of the impact on ecosystems or joint work on the introduction of modern waste management technologies.
At the same time, an agreement on scientific-technical cooperation between the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO and LUT University was signed in Helsinki.
LUT University has become the key partner university in Finland for the International Competence Centre and its main activities will be focused on improving technologies of waste recycling, including waste reuse and disposal of hazardous and toxic substances, as well as working on developing innovations resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, with specific attention to be paid to power engineering facilities.
The results of the studies are expected to be introduced into production at extracting and processing enterprises around the world, including Russia and Finland obviously.
As noted by Juha-Matti Saksa, Rector of LUT, ”The need for positive changes in the mining sector is our mission, and we have been working on it, together with the Mining University, for some years. Such issues as waste management, sustainability, social and environmental responsibility are of specific importance to us. I think these topics will unite us within the framework of the Сompetence Center”.
According to Vladimir Litvinenko, the Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University, also the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Competence Center, ”We - representatives of higher education institutions - need to work more actively to introduce the best available technologies and improve the competence of engineers. In regards to the latter, I mean the competence of both the students of engineering programmes as well as employees working in extracting and processing enterprises. Today we are gathering a team of technical universities and mining companies - the team which will work on improving the efficiency of the mining industry as a whole as well as on the competence of its particular representatives. In this work, we are supported by numerous companies and most of the technical universities from all over the world, - we are all interested in bringing this initiative to success”.