Presidents puck up cross-border cooperation
In their first meeting as state leaders, Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinistö discussed cross-border relations. And played ice hockey
Visa issues were high on the agenda when the two presidents, both of them elected into office this year, met during last week’s Sankt Petersburg Economic Forum. Commenting on relations in a press conference following the meeting, President Niinistö stressed that Finland “seeks to approach the visa questions as flexibly as possible” and uses “all space for maneuvering possible within EU legislation”.
In an interview with newspaper Vedomosti published on the same day, Niinistö underlines that “if ten million people annually cross the border from Russia to Finland, we have to make the visa regime as flexible as possible” and that he sees “no major problems” with the issue.
In 2011, the Finnish General Consulate in Sankt Petersburg alone issued more than one million visas, the overwhelming part of them multiple entry visas.
President Putin on his side signaled that he might be willing to reassess the Russian law on foreigners’ land ownership in border areas. The law, which became a major issue in bilateral relations when adopted in 2010, prohibits foreigners from owning land in border areas. “We have agreed that we from the Russian side will once again analyse the enforcement of this law”, Putin said, adding that “we will correct it, if it is necessary”.
The Russian president reportedly also proposed the introduction of new “electronic technology facilitating visa procedures”, something which will be looked into by the Finnish side.
Also security issues were on the Finnish-Russia meeting agenda. Commenting on the prospects of a Finnish membership in NATO, Putin did little to disguise his dislike with the scenario. In the press conference, the Russian president said that Russian countermeasures would be taken if the military situation along the border changed. “What would that be good for?” Putin said.
As if symbolizing their many joint interests, as well as deep-rooted rivaly, the meeting between the neighboring countries’ presidents ended with the organization of an ice hockey match. The game, which only lasted for one period, ended in a 4-4 tie. Niinistö played as a centre, with Putin on his wing, and was reportedly picked afterwards as "the man of the match".