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Cablegate: Finland: Prime Minister Holds First Russia Forum

VZCZCXRO2575
RR RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHHE #0484/01 3560926
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 220926Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY HELSINKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5330
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 5025

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HELSINKI 000484

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2019
TAGS: FI PGOV PREL EUR RS
SUBJECT: FINLAND: PRIME MINISTER HOLDS FIRST RUSSIA FORUM

REF: 09 HELSINKI 150

Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Scott Brandon for reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Following up on the government's "Russia
Action Policy" issued earlier this year, on November 26 Prime
Minister Vanhanen held the first "Russia Forum." According
to the Action Plan, the PM should hold a Forum to connect
Finns from government, business and academia in order to
inject new thinking into Finland's Russia policy. Vanhanen
brought together over 200 Finns to discuss the Russian
economy and examine the quality of Finland's Russian
expertise. Foreign Minister Stubb (who spearheaded creation
of the Action Plan) offered a broad assessment of Russia and
its foreign relations, praising the U.S. "re-set" and calling
the EU Russia's "best partner." The event received praise
for bringing so many together to discuss their eastern
neighbor, but also some criticism for a lack of substance.
However, the event seems to have connected Finns who might
not otherwise have met, and gotten them discussing their
eastern neighbor, so the Forum seems to hold some promise of
future substance. END SUMMARY.

Public-private assessment of evolving policy
--------------------------------------------

2. (U) On November 26 Prime Minister Vanhanen hosted
Finland's first "Russia Forum." The Government's (GOF)
"Russia Action Plan" published earlier this year (REFTEL)
states that the PM will occasionally organize an event to
promote a public-private partnership, in order to bring new
thinking to an evolving Russia policy. The Plan, which
provides guidelines on how to deal with a resurgent Russia,
largely reflects Foreign Minister Stubb's thinking; it seeks
a more clear-eyed approach than followed in the past by
pursuing productive relations with their eastern neighbor
without shying from Russia's shortcomings and challenges.


Vanhanen: Finland is the EU's gateway to Russia
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) In a December 2 meeting with PolChief, Maimo
Henriksson, Director of the Foreign Ministry's (MFA) Russia
Unit discussed the Forum. Henriksson said The Forum brought
together over two hundred Finns from government, business,
academia and politics. It focused on the broad themes of the
Russian economy and Finnish expertise in Russian matters.
Vanhanen, Stubb and other ministers provided remarks. In his
remarks Vanhanen linked the event's two themes, stating that
in order to best take advantage of its position as the EU's
gateway to Russia, Finland needed to promote greater
knowledge of Russia and more Finnish-Russian connections.

Stubb: EU is Russia's "best partner"
------------------------------------

4. (C) Henrikkson provide Pol/Econ chief Stubb's talking
points for his speech, from which she said he drew
extensively in his remarks. Stubb broadly covered Russia's
economy, domestic politics, and foreign relations. He listed
familiar problems: a lack of transparency, corruption, am
economy based on natural resources, and a democratic deficit.
While Stubb noted favorably comments by President Medvedev
about the need for Russia to modernize, he wrote that in the
short term he did not see any profound changes to take place
in Russia.

5. (U) Stubb praised the U.S. "re-set policy", stating that
it was well-received in Russia. He added that while the two
countries continue to address persistent problems, both wish
to work on matters of common interests like Afghanistan,
non-proliferation and the Middle East. He also welcomed
signs of improvement in Russia-NATO relations.

6. (U) However, Stubb most strongly emphasized the importance
of the EU, calling it "the best partner" for Russia.
According to Stubb, the EU offers a partnership that focuses
on cooperation, diminishing trade barriers, improving
mobility of people and increasing regional stability.
Whenever Russia undergoes a modernization process, Stubb
stressed that the EU would possess strong potential and that
Finland could play a key role as a neighbor and EU Member
State.

Finns less interested in studying Russia
----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Henriksson said the participants took a hard look at
the state of Finland's expertise on Russia. The most glaring

HELSINKI 00000484 002 OF 002


problem is Finns' Russian language skills: apparently
approximately only one in forty-five Finns speaks Russian, a
number that includes the Russian-speaking minority in
Finland. Another problem is the dwindling number of Finns
studying in Russia, due to the ease in studying within the EU
and bureaucratic difficulties in living and studying in
Russia. Participants proposed a number of ideas, like
holding "Russian knowledge fairs" and perhaps establishing
some form of Finnish-Russian university.

GOF to act on Forum's guidance
------------------------------

8. (SBU) Henriksson voiced considerable satisfaction with the
event (perhaps not surprisingly, as she was one of the
organizers). She pointed to significant public and private
sector attendance and to the active participation of Stubb,
who moderated the various panel discussions. Asked about
action items flowing from the Forum, Henriksson said that it
fell to the relevant ministries to note suggestions and
pursue proposals - for example, the Ministry of Education
would consider how to increase interest in Russian studies.
Henriksson expected another Forum next year, likely one
smaller and tighter in focus.

9. (SBU) In a separate meeting with Pol/Econ staff, Hanna
Smith, a researcher at the University of Helsinki who
participated in the Forum, offered less praise than
Henriksson. Smith (and others, she asserted) thought the
content too broad and shallow to call it a great success.
She saw no concrete "action items" emerging from the event,
and wondered whether holding it once a year would serve a
useful purpose. However, Smith allowed that it was the first
such event, and that future events could hold more substance.
She also noted that the Forum promoted contacts and
discussion among participants who might not otherwise have
met, and who will continue to meet outside the Forum.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: Stubb has been active in forging an
Finnish approach to Russia that is more open than in the
past. He seems to have succeeded in advancing this idea,
given the turnout and high-level participation in the Forum.
He even managed to slide in some public criticism of Russia,
a very unusual thing here, given the MFA's account of the
Forum on its website, the grim picture it painted of the
economy and the expectation that membership in the WTO would
not improve the economic situation there. END COMMENT.

ORECK

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