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Cablegate: Putin Visits Finland

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HELSINKI 000873

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/NB, EUR/RUS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/02/2015
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR PHUM RS EN FI
SUBJECT: PUTIN VISITS FINLAND

Classified By: POLOFF DAVID ALLEN SCHLAEFER FOR REASON 1.4
(B) AND (D)

1. (C) Summary: Ambassador Earle I. Mack met privately
with Jarmo Viinanen, Chief of Staff to Finland's President
Tarja Halonen, on August 3. Viinanen briefed the Ambassador
about Russian President Putin's 2 day visit to Finland for
meetings with Halonen. Viinanen said that both sides
emphasized Finnish-Russian cooperation and partnership and
purposefully stayed away from potential areas of
disagreement. Agreement was reached to open a new border
crossing and explore additional options to facilitate
cross-border traffic; Russia placed importance on all 8 of
the border checkpoints being fully operational. Putin did
not pressure the Finns about their visa regime. Putin told
Halonen that he was particularly angry with and "felt
betrayed" by Estonia for inserting negative language into the
text of the border agreement, and that Russia was now in no
hurry to continue the process. At a press conference,
Halonen defended the Estonians and Latvians when Putin
criticized their treatment of ethnic Russian minorities.
Finally, Putin toured the Turku Science Park and expressed
general interest in the facilities.

Short on Substance, Long on Symbolism
-------------------------------------
2. (C) Viinanen told the Ambassador that Putin's visit was
designed to highlight the positive aspects of the
Finnish-Russian bilateral relationship. Neither side wished
to discuss in detail outstanding issues or areas of
disagreement, and this non-confrontational agenda had been
agreed upon prior to the trip to avoid any unpleasant
surprises. For their part, the Finns were eager to use the
visit to downplay any suggestions of tension in the bilateral
relationship, highlight Finnish-Russian cooperation, and
follow up on Halonen's successful visit to Moscow during the
World War II celebrations earlier this year. Viinanen
characterized the meetings as friendly and as being "between
two equals,' and said that Halonen and Putin had a strong
personal relationship at this point. Most of the discussions
took place at Kultaranta ("Gold Beach"), the President's
official summer residence on the coast near Turku. Halonen
and Putin also took a private (with 2 interpreters only),
one-hour evening cruise.


Bilateral Border Issues
-----------------------
3. (C) Viinanen said that both Halonen and Putin pointedly
stayed away from likely irritants. Specific agreement to
open a new border crossing to facilitate commercial and other
traffic was reached, as was general agreement on the need for
expedited rail and bus routes. Putin said that it was
important for all 8 existing border checkpoints to be open
and fully operational. Finnish and Russian officials will
schedule a follow-up meeting to explore options. Viinanen
said that the often contentious issue of visa policy was
mentioned only in passing, and that Putin did not pressure
Halonen about Finland's refusal rate or processing
requirements. Halonen, for her part, remarked that Finland
had a very flexible visa regime, and that it was much easier
for a Russian to get a visa to visit Finland than it was for
a Finn to obtain a visa to visit Russia. Putin invited
Halonen to visit the opening of a wastewater purification
plant in September in St. Petersburg, and Halonen said that
she would most likely do so.


Baltic Border Issues
--------------------
4. (C) The Finnish media reported that Halonen strongly
defended the Baltic countries to Putin against charges that
they mistreated their ethnic Russian minorities. However,
Viinanen said that the "occasion to criticize the Balts" on
the minorities issue never came up in Putin's discussions
with Halonen, and that it was only in response to a
reporter's question at the final press conference that Putin
made such critical remarks, prompting Halonen to come to the
Baltic countries' defense. On the general issue of the
Estonian and Latvian border agreements, Putin told Halonen
that he was angered by the Estonian Parliament's "betrayal"
of his hard work. Putin told Halonen that he had personally
decided to sign the agreements and push them through the
ratification process-- in the face of strong domestic
opposition-- before the Estonians had made their unhelpful
changes to their agreement's preamble. He said that he
privately understood the political dynamic that compelled
them to do so, but that this did not change his opinion or
"alter the reality of the situation." Putin opined to
Halonen that the Latvians were "more honest" about the
agreements, and in general he seemed to have a more positive
assessment of the dialogue with Latvia than with Estonia.
However, he said that Russia would wait before concluding any
agreements at this point.


S and T, and English
--------------------
5. (C) Putin toured the Turku Science Park with Finnish
officials and, according to Viinanen, "looked around with
interest." There were no Russian S and T officials with him,
however, and he did not indicate particular interest in any
specific project or ask to visit any of the Russian companies
in the area. Contrary to some media reports, he did not do
any sightseeing other than the boat cruise with Halonen and
the stay at the historic Kultaranta. His wife did not
accompany him. Putin and Halonen apparently used translators
during their discussions, but Viinanen told the Ambassador
that Putin spoke some English with Dr. Pentti Arajarvi
(Halonen's husband) for about one hour while the two took a
sauna together on the first night of the visit. Arajarvi
reported that Putin's English was not strong, but that he was
obviously working hard on it, and that they were able to
communicate satisfactorily.

6. (C) Comment: For a two day visit that included 8 hours
of discussion, the meetings-- at least according to
Viinanen-- appear to have been remarkably unsubstantive.
Journalists raised some difficult issues at the press
conference, but troublesome areas such as regional
environmental degradation, Russian overflight of Finnish
territory, transnational problems like TIP, etc., seem to
have been lightly touched on, if at all. Putin was
appreciative of Halonen's decision to attend the VE Day
celebrations in Moscow and her public remarks at the time,
and it seems the current visit may have been designed to
reciprocate. Halonen's foreign policy acumen has been
questioned recently, as has the state of Finnish-Russian
bilateral relations; with next January's election looming,
Putin's visit afforded the President an opportunity to share
the stage with a major world leader and reassure Finns that
all is well on her watch with Finland's most important,
difficult, and dangerous neighbor.

MACK

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