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Joint news conference with President of Finland Sauli Niinistö

August 21, 2019, Helsinki

Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinistö made press statements and answered media questions following Russian-Finnish talks.

President of Finland Sauli Niinistö (retranslated): Good afternoon.

To begin with, I would like to once again say how pleased I am that despite his busy schedule, the President of Russia has found time to visit Finland.

We had a good and focused conversation, though there is still a lot left to discuss later tonight. Of course, we talked about Finnish-Russian relations and noted that there are no problems here. Many areas of our cooperation, such as bilateral trade, including tourism, for example, are heading in a positive direction. We also see positive developments in other areas.

With regard to trade and economic cooperation, we have joint projects that are being implemented in Finland and Russia, and commercial entities from both countries take part in these projects. These projects and this work are on an upwards trajectory.

We also outlined a number of potentially promising new areas of interaction. In particular, we discussed waste management, and we, in Finland, believe that our system, our technology and progress in this area are quite positive. We also spoke earlier about the Krasny Bor hasardous waste landfill and potential cooperation in this area, but for now, we discussed waste management in general. In this regard, a visit by regional leaders of Russia in Finland is planned for them to learn more about what we have managed to accomplish.

When Finland presided over the Arctic Council, we paid a lot of attention to combating black coal and soot emissions. I am very pleased by what we have just heard from the President, namely, that Russia takes finding a solution to this challenge very seriously.

In early summer, word came that Russia will be fully involved in the work of the Council of Europe in the future. Finland contributed to resolving this issue and the problem that existed beforehand. It is very important that Russia take part in the human rights mechanisms and systems in Europe.

We have many times discussed issues and topics related to the Baltic regions, as well as the importance of dialogue in this context. It is true that dialogue on issues in this region is badly needed. As before, Finland stands ready to offer its services via diplomatic channels if need be.

We have also had time to discuss Ukraine. I am going to pay an official visit in a couple of weeks. As I understand, practical initiatives are being implemented and practical work is underway. For my part, I, of course, will support such developments.

My colleague has already promised that tonight we will discuss other topics on the international political agenda; of course, we have more than enough of them.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with my colleague’s assessment of the level and character of Russian-Finnish relations.

There is cooperation at the highest level as well as between our governments, corresponding ministries, agencies, regions and public organisations.

Today we have also discussed trade and investment cooperation. Let me remind you that mutual investment has surpassed $7 billion, and over 7,000 Finnish enterprises have business contacts with Russian companies. Bilateral trade is growing. Large projects are being implemented.

We thank Finland for its pragmatic approach to a major international European project, Nord Stream 2. I can inform you that construction of the pipeline in the Finnish section, in the Finnish exclusive economic zone, was completed today.

Russia and Finland cooperate closely on environmental protection. In September, representatives of about 30 Russian regions will visit Finland to share experience in this sphere. We have agreed to expand cooperation on the environment, including within the Arctic Council.

Russian-Finnish humanitarian contacts are also expanding. The next, 20th Russian-Finnish Cultural Forum will be held in September in Tula; the Days of Karelia in Finland are planned for next June; and the 6th Congress of Sister Cities will be held in Tver.

Cooperation in science and education is also advancing. Under the agreement between the St Petersburg Mining University and the Lappeenranta University of Technology, Russian and Finnish scientists will carry out innovative research together in the field of extraction, processing and transportation of natural resources.

Tourist exchange between our countries is as high as ever. About 3.5 million Russians visited your country last year, and about a million Finnish citizens traveled to Russia. We believe that the number of Finns visiting our country will increase markedly after Russia starts issuing electronic visas for St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region to EU citizens on October 1. This will be free, without the need to visit a consulate.

Mr President noted during today’s discussion that there is still the unresolved issue concerning the exchange of information between the relevant departments, but we will work on this.

Indeed, we have discussed several issues on the international agenda. We are interested in a full-scale restoration of relations with the European Union. We hope that the new leadership of the EU will also show a positive attitude towards maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with our country.

We have also talked about cooperation with the Council of Europe. We appreciate that our Finnish partners contributed to a positive decision on restoring the rights of the Russian parliamentary delegation in full and without exceptions.

We have also touched on the subject of security in the Baltic Sea region. We only discussed it briefly, but I think we will have time to talk more about strategic stability and security issues in the world in general.

I have updated Mr President on the problems in southeastern Ukraine. And as Mr President has just said, we will have an opportunity to continue our discussions at the working dinner. But now I would like to thank Mr President, and all of our colleagues for organising this meeting, for the invitation and for the warm atmosphere that was created.

(In Finnish) Kiitos. [Thank you]

Question: Finland strongly supported the decision to restore Russia’s rights in the Council of Europe, but now the events we are witnessing in Moscow show that Russia does not respect its people’s civil rights. Why does Russia not follow the rules set in the Council of Europe? At least part of the Russian population thinks this is happening. And another question: where do you, President Putin, see yourself in 2025?

And a question for President Niinistö: what do you think about this?

Vladimir Putin: Russia respects the human rights and civil rights of its people. The events in Moscow and the protests you have mentioned are not unique to us, they happen in the world and in Europe in particular.

We carefully monitor such events in many European capitals, and the events held there under political slogans are much larger and have dire consequences for those who take part in them.

There are many victims there; thousands of injured demonstrators, including heavily injured, and thousands of injured law enforcement officers.

Speaking about the events in Russia, in Moscow in particular, they are occurring in the heat of an election campaign. Election commissions rejected several candidates’ applications to run for the Moscow city legislature because these candidates had violated the law. In particular, they were supposed to provide lists of voters who support them. The election committees found that these lists included people who have passed away, but their signatures were on the signature sheets. This is not a mistake, this is falsification.

There is a lawful way to protect one’s rights: go to court. At least one case was ruled in favour of the plaintiff. This person’s eligibility to run for the Moscow legislature was reinstated.

People still have the right to protect their interests at public events and protests. There are at least two good examples when protests were organised after the necessary permits were applied for and obtained from the authorities.

Our law enforcement agencies respond to unsanctioned events in Moscow as they should, like in other European capitals. It is important that demonstrators, law enforcement officers and government bodies comply with the law in Russia. Those who violate the law will be either fined or criminally prosecuted, in full compliance with Russian law.

It is too soon to speak about 2024, because it is only 2019.

Now, regarding our work at the Council of Europe. We are not exactly champing at the bit to get there. If we are not welcome, we can do without it. But then the people you care about so much will not be able to turn to the European Court of Human Rights. I do not think this is the best way to build a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. We must not be biased towards each other, but remain objective about events in our countries and address issues of mutual interest together, including within European institutions.

Sauli Niinistö: I, like many other Finns, I suppose, have been following the events in Moscow and many other places, as President Putin pointed out, on television. Probably it would be too glib to say that, fortunately, we do not have these problems, these things do not happen to us. However, I would like to note that our administration, government institutions and civil society are in contact. I believe this is one of the reasons why we do not experience this.

As for Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe. As far as I know, it is Russian civic institutions that think it very important for Russia to stay in this organisation.

Question: I have a question for both presidents.

Several days ago, the US tested a missile that was banned in the past by the INF Treaty. I know that security is a very sensitive issue for Europeans. I would like to ask you if you have discussed or are planning to discuss this new reality during your meeting.

And another brief question for the President of Finland. Currently Finland holds the presidency of the EU. If the US wants to deploy such missiles in Europe, what will be Europe’s response? Thank you.

Sauli Niinistö: As far as I understand, the US declared it has no plans to deploy this technology in Europe. Certainly, it is a problem that currently we find ourselves in a situation when agreements that worked in the past no longer work. I think that the problem is felt most acutely in Europe. For this reason, it is important to launch new arms control talks and ensure that they have a positive outcome.

Vladimir Putin: I can say we are disappointed with what we see. Obviously, testing a ground-based medium-range missile violates the INF Treaty and aggravates the situation in the word in general and in Europe in particular. I will explain what I mean.

First of all, the Americans tested this missile too fast, too soon after they announced their withdrawal from the treaty. In this sense, we have grounds to believe that the work on this missile (on the ‘landing’, as this is a sea missile) had begun long before they started searching for a pretext to withdraw from the treaty. To tell the truth, I have not heard the Americans saying they do not plan to deploy these missiles in Europe. If they did say so, that would be good, of course.

We have talked about this; I have said this many times, and two days ago, I said this in Marseilles. I can repeat it here in Helsinki: Russia will not deploy missiles – although, of course, we will be working on short-range and medium-range systems like this – unless corresponding missile systems produced in the US are deployed in a given region. We have not received any response from our American or European partners so far.

I am concerned that the tested missile, according to the Pentagon, is a Tomahawk, or a sea-based missile. It was reconfigured to be land-based. These missiles can be launched from existing launchers in Romania or ones that will soon be located in Poland. It only requires a change of software. I am not sure that our American friends will even inform their European partners about the software they use in these systems. For us this means a new threat appearing that we must respond to.

I agree with the President of Finland that, of course, we need a dialogue on these issues. We have no such dialogue so far. We will take reciprocal steps regarding these actions. We made proposals on such a dialogue some time ago, but we will stick to our point of view: we are ready to discuss this with the Europeans and the Americans, but we will provide for Russia’s security.

Question (retranslated): Russia is a great power, including militarily, as President Niinistö noted in his speech yesterday. And, of course, military powers are responsible for security. Finland is concerned over the events in Arkhangelsk Region, a little more than 400 km from the Finnish border.

A question for President Putin. What happened in Arkhangelsk Region, in Severodvinsk? What can be done to ensure that events like this do not affect Finland’s security? Perhaps it would be necessary to improve the mechanism for information exchange between Finland and Russia not only on peaceful atomic use, nuclear power plants and civilian facilities, but on closed military facilities as well.

What further actions must be taken?

Vladimir Putin: I have already said what happened there. Unfortunately, the tragedy in the White Sea took the lives of our experts. This is work carried out in the military sphere, work on prospective weapon systems. We are not concealing this. The people who were injured or died were performing very important work for Russia’s security.

The fact that our partners, including the Americans, test new systems proves that we have to focus on this. I have just answered a similar question. We must think about our own security.

Speaking about information sharing, our corresponding services are working. According to the reports I have, everything is fine. The neighbouring countries did not record any increase in background radiation either. This is obvious to everyone; this is objective data, everything that is happening can be seen from many kilometres, dozens of kilometres away.

Both military and civilian experts are working at the site of the incident, the site where this tragedy, without exaggeration, took place. Of course (and I believe you will understand me), there are certain restrictions on access to information when military matters are at stake. However, I fully agree with you on security issues; we must establish effective tools and effective system to share such information. I agree with you on this.

Question: I would like to return to your opening remarks, President Putin. You mentioned the implementation of the Nord Stream project and informed us that the section in the Finnish exclusive economic zone was completed. And yet the project is still criticised, and perhaps you have already tired of this question, but don’t you worry that it will not be implemented because of the well-known attacks it faces?

Vladimir Putin: You know, it does not depend on us; or rather, it does not depend only on us, but also on our partners, above all our European partners. For example, the Americans have convinced their European partners that they have to keep the US military industrial complex busy, even though they have their own capabilities in this area. If now they convince the Europeans that they also need to purchase gas at increased prices, well, that will be the Europeans’ choice.

The next step is to subsidise a noncompetitive product on the European market from state budgets. Theoretically, we can imagine this. But it seems to me that such demands are redundant even considering the alliance between Europe and the US. I think that both sides understand this very well.

The objective reality is that Europe is interested in getting European gas. I believe the project will be implemented.

Sauli Niinistö: Speaking about Finland and probably Sweden, too, these issues are addressed in the context of international law and environmental requirements. A comprehensive assessment was made on this basis.

August 21, 2019, Helsinki