Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Russia has five uneasy questions to Finland

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will make an official visit to Finland on April 20-21. Medvedev will meet his Finnish counterpart, Tarja Halonen, to discuss a wide range of issues. The export duties on Russian timber products, the implementation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project, Finland ’s possible membership in NATO, the visa-entry regime and Finland ’s negative attitude to Russia are the most complicated issues on the agenda of the meeting.

Finland’s Ambassador to Russia Matti Anttonen said at a news conference on April 15 in Moscow that Finland was concerned about Russia’s decision to raise export duties on timber. The bilateral trade between Russia and Finland had a 75-percent reduction because of the increased duties.

The ambassador did not say that the increase of duties was a measure that Russia was forced to take. It is quite complicated to obtain an official permission for disafforestation in Finland, which makes wood more expensive in the country. Russian laws are not so strict: many Russian businessmen were selling Russian timber to Finland and paid no attention to ecology. It is obviously cheaper for the Finnish pulp and paper industry to purchase wood from Russia, whereas Russian forests gradually turn into fields of stumps.

The two presidents will also discuss the implementation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline project. The pipeline from Russia to Germany is going to run along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, mostly in the Finnish waters. It is impossible to build the system bypassing those waters; the fate of the project wholly depends on the views of the Finnish government.

The position of the Finnish authorities on the project is not known yet. The nation’s ecological organizations stand strongly against the project claiming that any leak of natural gas will destroy the ecology of the Baltic region. Moreover, they are concerned about the mines that have been resting on the sea floor for decades since WWII.

On the other hand, Finland’s former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, is a member of Nord Stream’s board of directors. Finland’s Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb stated in February of this year that the country may eventually OK the project. The public discussion of the project will finish in the beginning of May. Most likely, President Halonen will not give the final answer to Medvedev regarding the project.

Many Finnish politicians believe that Finland must become a NATO member over Russia’s “unpredictable politics.” Russia is highly concerned about Finland’s NATO plans too: the border between Russia and Finland runs for 1,300 kilometers.

The most complicated issue is connected with the Finns’ negative attitude to Russia. An opinion poll conduct by the BBC in 2006 showed that 65 percent of the Finnish population treated Russia negatively. Apparently, many people in the country cannot forgive Russia for the war in 1939-1940, which deprived Finland of a part of its territory.

A more recent poll, held by the Finnish newspaper Helsinken Sanomat after the war in the Caucasus in August 2008, said that the majority of the Finns do not see a threat in Russia. Over 57 percent of the polled Finns said that they did not want their country to be a member of NATO. About 800,000 Russian tourists visit the country every year, and the local population changes its attitude to Russians slowly but surely.

Vadim Trukhachev

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