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Speech at Helsinki University and Answers to Questions from Audience

April 20, 2009


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Dear Ms President,

Dear Mr Rector of the University,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Naturally, I would especially like to thank you most cordially for the opportunity to speak here at the oldest university in Finland and one of the best universities in Northern Europe.

For many centuries now the University has served as the centre for national academic research and culture, and today in its current incarnation has become a global leader in fundamental research and the development of innovation.

In general it gives me great pleasure to address this very important hall, where many prominent events have taken place. And as a former employee of a university I would like to say that I always think it is very important that national and foreign leaders can communicate directly and immediately with the elite, with those who represent Finland both in national and international affairs. And I believe this is a good tradition.

I will allow myself to focus on perhaps two issues: the first is the prospect of bilateral relations between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Finland and the second is European security.

I know that your University is making a very significant contribution to the development of Russian-Finnish relations. More than one generation of its graduates has actively developed educational, academic and cultural ties with Russia and helped strengthen friendship and cooperation between our nations. Incidentally, one such example is your library, the University library, which has accumulated a unique selection of books in Russian.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of autonomy in Finland, and I would state that, despite all the vagaries of history, one can rightly say that currently Russia and Finland are not just good neighbours and true partners, but are also cooperating closely and very effectively on a bilateral level and in various international political and economic forums.

I am very pleased to say that we are interested and encouraged by the fact that for the first time in history, the Government of Finland has adopted a comprehensive action programme in Russia’s regard. And I believe that here the most important thing is not simply our relation as neighbours, which of course is a geographical concept, but rather  the crucial idea that this proximity be supplemented with effective economic relations. And this kind of potential exists between our countries, both in a bilateral format and in light of the possibility of cooperation with the EU within the framework of the Northern Dimension project and in other areas as well.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention our trade and economic ties, despite the fact that these figures are undoubtedly familiar to many in this hall. These ties are developing very successfully and are based on multi-year projects. We are very pleased that for the first time last year Russia ranked first among Finland’s trading partners, and that our two-way trade exceeded 22 billion U.S. dollars.

This is particularly important now in light of the crisis affecting the economies of almost all developed countries, because our trade ties, our economic ties provide employment for tens of thousands of people who live on either side of the border or are involved with major projects, including energy projects. We believe that Nord Stream will be one of these projects. And of course we are interested in constructive relations, in collaboration with our Finnish colleagues and with other European countries, to implement Nord Stream, a very important energy project with far-reaching implications.

It is absolutely clear that such projects in general and Nord Stream in particular must be undertaken only after a proper environmental impact assessment, since it will affect all countries that border on the Baltic Sea, and in this regard we are obliged to work together.

I would note that our Finnish colleagues are actively involved in other energy projects. Last year Fortum acquired a controlling stake in TGC-10, one of Russia's largest energy companies in Western Siberia. The total amount of the deal is of course very impressive, 2.5 billion euros. Fortum now is co-owner of TGC-1, which is located just next door, here in the north-west. Thus our Finnish colleagues have already become very important for us and on some issues they are our crucial partners in the energy market. What does this mean? It means that this kind of relationship is built up to last over years, over decades to come.

We have also set up major joint projects in infrastructure, logistics and telecommunications. Here one very important project in our view is the development of high-speed rail traffic between St Petersburg and Helsinki. I hope that by the year 2010 we will be able to reduce the journey time on this route to 3.5 hours, which of course will be very important for people living in Russia and in Finland. This will provide a normal, high-speed service that facilitates regular contacts, and it will mean that we will become closer in the strictest sense of that word.

Cooperation in the high-tech sector is proceeding apace. I should note that at the end of last year an agreement was signed between the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies and the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy. And I would like to congratulate you on the success that you have had in this field. I believe that IT, high technology in the broadest sense of that word and including nanotechnology, will be crucial for Finland and its role in the European Union. And here we would like to cooperate fully, because of course this is very important for our country as well. For Russia the creation of an innovation-based economy is a promising area for development.

According to the data available on these matters, the aggregate amount of Finnish investment in Russia is already estimated at 5 billion euros. I am sure that this kind of tangible cooperation and the desire to cooperate that it demonstrates, the desire to take into account each other’s interests, will continue to be a very significant engine for the development of our trade relations.

Dear colleagues, next year marks the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, without a doubt one of the most important international legal instruments of the 20th century, because it served as a cornerstone for building a common Euro-Atlantic security space.

When we talk about the spirit of Helsinki, of course we are referring to openness, a spirit of collaboration, new attitudes, and mutual respect, all of which became the key for resolving international problems at that point. These solutions were only achieved through joint action. Finnish President Urho Kaleva Kekkonen was eloquent on this point when he spoke at the opening session of the Helsinki Conference. He said: “This is not just a meeting, nor the encounter between the victors of a war, nor a conclave of the great and powerful; it is a joint attempt by all concerned governments to resolve the vital issues that concern us all, on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” I believe that these words are as topical as always and profoundly relevant in the current situation, and recent decades have shown the accuracy and truth of this formulation.

Nevertheless, since then a great deal of time has gone by, the world has changed and the era of inflexible ideological confrontation has disappeared. However, the Helsinki breakthrough or the spirit of Helsinki has not had the powerful effect that one might have wished. That is why today as in the past the real challenge involves strengthening the values that are fundamental for all of us who live in Europe, namely: adherence to international law, non-use of force, respect for sovereignty, commitment to peaceful methods of conflict resolution and the principles of arms control.

There is a Finnish proverb that says “When crossing the rapids don’t look back at the rocks.” And yet as in the past certain political forces are still obsessed by the need to expand what they see as obligatory military-political alliances, which by the way often act to the detriment of European security. The rules of international law are applied selectively, on the basis of so-called political expediency, and sometimes simply ignored.

In our view, there are quite a few examples of this in contemporary Europe: the military operation in the Balkans, the recognition of Kosovo, the Caucasus crisis resulting from the attack on South Ossetia last year, and the crisis in talks on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. These examples could be multiplied indefinitely. They show how European security is still far from perfect. And we need to deal seriously with the architecture of European security.

For these reasons I believe that such solutions can be developed through multi-faceted cooperation between the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United States of America. This sort of solution can be realised only through confidence-building in Europe.

It was with this in mind that we formulated the idea of a large-scale European treaty on security, which in our view should not be just a set of declarations but a legally binding document, based on the equality and mutual respect of all the signatories. It should be based on a range of principles from international law, but perhaps most importantly on the recognition that the security of the European continent is indivisible, that it cannot be dealt with in piecemeal fashion. This is because whatever alliances we form, whatever agreements we make, in the final analysis they alone will not insure against a variety of problems. We need a new, international forum to resolve such problems.

And Russia is inviting all states and organisations operating on the European continent to work together to come up with coherent, up-to-date and, most importantly, effective rules of the game. In what format could this be done? I have already spoken about this but I will say it again in this hallowed hall. Neither NATO nor the EU seem fully appropriate, because there are countries that do not belong to either. The same applies to organisations such as the CIS or CSTO. It could take place at a summit of the OSCE and some of our partners in Europe support this idea. We are also ready to try that. But of course in our view there is a problem with the OSCE as well. The problem is that recently the OSCE has focussed on solving partial, sometimes even peripheral security issues, and this is not enough. Therefore, we need another forum which could lead to a productive dialogue among all parties without exception.

I think that holding a forum at the very highest level, a summit with all Euro-Atlantic states, international organisations – including of course the European Union, NATO, the OSCE, CSTO, CIS – regional organisations and, of course, all the countries that belong to these organisations, is one way to launch talks on a treaty on European security. In that way we could identify the best platform for further negotiations and agree on an agenda.

Of course, here I am proceeding from a pragmatic perspective. Such a meeting cannot take place simply by snapping one’s fingers: we need to prepare for it and the level of expectations is quite high, as is, incidentally, the level of distrust for the idea. I have repeatedly had to answer questions from our various partners: why do we need this and are our current arrangements not enough? But what I have just put forward does, I believe, show quite clearly that existing organisations and forums fail to cope with these challenges and the best (or rather the worst) proof of this is the existence of various regional crises.

If we could agree on a future treaty [of European security], we could consider it, if you want, as a kind of ‘Helsinki Plus’ treaty, that is as a confirmation, continuation and effective implementation of the principles and instruments born out of the Helsinki process, but adapted to the end of ideological confrontation and the emergence of new subjects of international law in the twenty-first century.

We consider it important to enshrine in law common mechanisms to prevent and resolve conflicts by peaceful means and to move forward to a new stage of cooperation in countering threats to security, cooperation which (and as we used to say, is a truly good idea) would encompass the whole area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

In my opinion the future treaty should include the basic principles for developing arms control regimes, confidence building measures, and measures on restraint and reasonable sufficiency in military development. Russia has already made a significant contribution to arms control and we remain ready to do so again. We have begun to modernise our armed forces to make them more compact, mobile and more appropriate for modern life. Of course, we will bring this work to completion.

Incidentally, with regard to the Baltic region we took the significant decision to reduce the number of formations and units in the Kaliningrad Region. We have already removed a significant amount of heavy weapons from Kaliningrad. As a result, the forces currently positioned in Kaliningrad have, on the whole, been reduced a few times. This is just an example of our open and pragmatic approach to security. We hope that our partners in NATO will exercise restraint and reasonableness in these matters as well. On this note, we would welcome the Alliance’s decision to abandon plans to further strengthen the military capabilities of the Baltic countries. In general, the construction of military facilities on the European continent must offset political threats, that is real military threats which we currently consider to be valid and relevant. I think that a new treaty like the one I am talking about could create a new system of security-related cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic space.

Work on the treaty can also facilitate another important task, namely the process of moving towards a world without nuclear weapons. In this respect of course a special responsibility lies with the ‘Big Five’ and primarily with the Russian Federation and the United States of America.

I recently had my first meeting with the new President of the United States Barack Obama. We agreed to start a new series of talks and negotiations to develop a full-fledged accord that will replace the START treaty which, as we know, expires in December. It is important to enshrine in law our perception that we need to reduce our strategic offensive capabilities and that we can do this, of course, in even greater quantities than foreseen in the Moscow Treaty of 2002. We think that in light of intercontinental ballistic missiles, ballistic missile submarines, and heavy bombers which carry nuclear weapons, this treaty designed to replace START I must limit both the means of delivery of nuclear warheads as well as the actual number of warheads.

We consider it possible to exclude the likelihood or possibility of a strategic offensive arms deployment outside of national territory. Of course, safety issues should remain in the foreground and during such negotiations we must proceed from the idea that participants have equal rights to security.

Today there are very serious expectations regarding nuclear disarmament. We paid attention to what the President of the United States said in Prague about how this was achievable provided that a number of conditions be observed. I will not repeat the conditions that Mr President enumerated, but they are valid ones. But for my part I would like to list a few additional conditions that are necessary for reaching such an agreement and achieving a new level of security.

First. We must prevent the militarization of outer space. Despite all the references made to this topic, it remains a very important and complicated one.

Second. It is unacceptable to compensate nuclear reductions by developing strategic systems which are equipped with conventional weapons. This would be an unequal exchange.

And third. We must ensure the impossibility of creating so-called recoverable nuclear capabilities.

Another aspect of security is the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons. It is no coincidence that we are hearing voices in favour of the revival of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in expert circles. I will not hide Russia’s position which has been stated repeatedly: we are very concerned about the prospect of the unilateral deployment of antimissile systems, which damages the current system of checks and balances in this field and very much complicates the prospects for nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, we could not find a common language on this subject with the previous administration of the United States of America, but in London we agreed with the President of the United States to continue to discuss this issue. Our proposals for broad international cooperation against possible missile threats remain valid – we have laid them out more than once – but substantive talks on this issue naturally remain to come.

It is a clear and simple truth that truly global missile defence cannot simply accommodate the interests of one state or group of states, and neither can its parameters be set unilaterally, as we have unfortunately observed in the case of well-known decisions on the deployment of an antimissile defence system in Europe. And as we see it, the debate about antimissile elements in Europe must involve all Europeans, not just a club of favourites that has taken the obligation to hold this debate upon itself. This worries us all. And if we are to set up antimissile defence, then it should be global.

Dear friends, we understand very well why Helsinki was chosen at that time as the site of the first-ever Pan-European Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Finland has always had a unique role to play in the international arena. This not only involves respect for the various interests of its partners, but also an active and ongoing desire to participate in the formulation of the principles of international security. And already in the 1970s such an approach earned your country an important reputation and improved the chances of achieving a lasting peace, because success usually comes to those who skilfully deploy their forces and are willing to cooperate, to engage in genuine, involved and honest cooperation. I know that in Finland these issues are well understood, and your country continues to make incremental steps towards a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world order. History does not give us many chances, which means that we must take advantage of those opportunities that do exist.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr President, Russia is the most important of the states that are not yet members of the WTO. In the current economic climate, it is important that all the leading countries have a place at the negotiating table. We in Finland have high hopes that Russia will become a member of the WTO as soon as possible. What do you think about the prospects of implementing these plans and for the development of a common economic space between the EU and Russia?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: As of course you know, we are more than willing, we decided a long time ago to join the WTO. The fact that we have been kept waiting in the wings is not our fault. We are ready for full membership in the World Trade Organization, and I believe that there are now no specific issues that could affect the participation of Russia in the WTO. All we need is for those on whom the process of accession to the World Trade Organization ultimately depends to take the appropriate steps.

As far as we are concerned, our eagerness to join the WTO has not changed. We would like to participate in the WTO, participate in every way, according to conditions that are not discriminatory and not designed to humiliate us, although we understand that this will create some problems for our economic development. But we are fully willing to accept that, in order to enjoy the full range of mutually beneficial relations with our partners, including of course the Republic of Finland. In that sense nothing has changed. I hope that more concerted action on the part of our key partners in the negotiations this year will lead to more decisive steps being taken.

QUESTION: Mr President, my question relates to a visa-free regime. The number of tourists crossing the Russian-Finnish border is increasing. This issue has important economic implications as well, since all sorts of people are forced to suffer under the current regime, wasting time queuing up for visas. The decision to facilitate this visa regime and the possibility of making 72-hour visits to St Petersburg is a very important step taken by the Russian Federation. We are delighted with it. A visa-free regime would be an important tool for reviving economic ties, particularly for the economy of eastern Finland. And it would give a new impetus to the development of tourism. Mr President, what can Russia do to faciliate the visa regime with Finland? What can we expect and in what sort of time frame?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: We are ready to undertake whatever is necessary to guarantee freedom of movement insofar as the visa regime is concerned. In large measure this issue does not depend on us but on the general questions surrounding visa agreements. It is an absolutely topical issue for both your country and ours. And if in general we look forward to the implementation of visa-free travel to EU countries, we are even more desirous to see abolision of visa restrictions for our citizens who travel to the Republic of Finland, just like for Finnish citizens who come to Russia. Therefore in this regard we are one hundred percent open to such changes. This is not just words for us, we are ready to act.

QUESTION: Mr President, how important do you think the exchange of university students and in higher education generally between the EU and Russia actually is? How would the various states involved encourage this process? How could they facilitate such cooperation in financial terms?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Of course this is a very important issue. I would say, for example, that when I was a student only the lucky ones got to go to Finland on exchange, the ones who did what had to be done and then received this sort of benefit. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, more’s the pity.

But now things are different. Ideology no longer divides us, we are working together on large-scale economic projects, we are linked by a common history and simply mutual affection. So of course student mobility (as well as professorial mobility, for that matter) is very important. I think that it is a very good idea for our students to take courses in European universities, in Helsinki, for example. I think the same is true for European students, students from EU countries, who come to Russia to study. It is also equally important that professors come and give lectures, that they travel in order to communicate with students in other countries.

In general I am a big fan of the Internet and new technologies, but I would like to say that the Internet is no substitute for this sort of contact, uninhibited direct contact, because when you stand at a podium like this you realise that this direct, uninhibited contact creates a special chemistry between human beings.

I think we must simply invest in these things and seek out additional opportunities to support student and professorial mobility. This can be under the auspices of state programmes already in place or university exchanges, as well as programmes that are sponsored by private business. We would like to see these sorts of programmes developed and strengthened.

QUESTION: Mr President, Russia’s energy resources have become increasingly important for the EU and for European states in general.

This makes supplying energy to Europe a big item in Russia’s budget. It is necessary to maintain the stability and development of trade relations. From the standpoint of western analysts and economists, Russia faces a number of important challenges: raising prices in its domestic energy market, energy conservation, energy efficiency and the reduction of energy losses. To what extent is the Russian leadership ready to face these challenges?

DMITRY MEDVEDEV: I would say that in this case western analysts are absolutely right. The issue of energy efficiency in Russia today is of paramount importance. And by the way one of the first decrees that I signed after becoming President was related to energy efficiency.

Despite the fact that Russia is the world’s largest energy producer, that we have huge reserves of oil and gas, and that we generate a lot of electricity, we must admit that many of the systems used in energy production in Russia are out of date and need to be radically improved. In this regard, we look forward to cooperating with our European partners, including Finland, to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy losses. Such challenges are extremely important at any time, but during an economic crisis their importance cannot be overstated, because in terms of energy efficiency a lot of our industry is unfortunately still in the Stone Age. We need to develop cooperation in this area and we would like to do it with all interested parties. And let me reiterate that this includes Finnish entrepreneurs. We believe that improvement in this area is crucial.

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