President of the Republic Tarja Halonen and Dr Pentti Arajärvi made a state visit to Russia on 8–11 November 2010. The second day of the state visit on Tuesday, 9 November began with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The reception ceremonies of the visit were organised at the Grand Kremlin Palace, followed by official talks with the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev.
President Halonen said that relations between Finland and Russia are enjoying a period of positive and fruitful cooperation. Finns are interested in the modernisation of Russian society and the opportunities this brings. In December new, high-speed trains will commence service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg, shortening the travel time to three and a half hours. The train connection is a practical example of modernisation as well as an ecological transport alternative. Presidents Halonen and Medvedev also discussed cross-border cooperation on nature conservation, the situation of the Baltic Sea and the arctic region, and the relations between the EU, NATO and OSCE.
Visa exemption between the EU and Russia and the registration of foreign workers in Russia were also discussed. President Halonen said that it is important to agree on practical guidelines to allow smooth and safe border crossing, and noted Finland’s efficiency in granting visas: nearly one million visas are granted annually, the majority of which are multiple entry visas. Registration, however, is cumbersome and bureaucratic, and President Halonen expressed her wish for a system that is flexible or for registration to be dispensed with altogether.
President Medvedev noted that the end result should be a situation where registration, if required at all, is straightforward and where visas will become redundant.
Matters relating to family law also came up at the press conference of the visit. President Halonen referred to the joint seminar for experts to be held in March 2011. The authorities concerned must work together to establish cooperation practices and exchange information.
In the afternoon of Tuesday, 9 November President Medvedev hosted an official reception in honour of the state visit. In her speech at the reception President Halonen said that trade between Russia and Finland is gradually returning to brisk levels after the financial crisis and that Russia is an interesting destination for investment. “Finnish businesses already employ tens of thousands of Russians, and the total amount of investment stands at over six billion euros,” President Halonen said. According to her, Russian WTO membership would clarify the relations between the European Union and Russia, and would also have a positive impact on global trade.
As examples of Russian modernisation, President Halonen mentioned the Skolkovo technology park project and cooperation in the field of renewable energy. “The interest towards joint ventures is not limited to the private sector, but is shared by several sectors of Finnish society, ranging from authorities at various levels to universities and numerous non-governmental organisations.”
According to President Halonen, Russian tourists have truly discovered Finland: “This year Finland will grant nearly one million visas to Russian businessmen and tourists, more than any other EU country. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of the visas will be multiple entry visas.” The high-speed train connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg will serve to further increase tourism.
On Tuesday evening President Halonen met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a dinner. Discussion topics included the outlook for Russian economic and social development, cooperation in the energy sector, and environmental issues. President Halonen also recounted her experiences from her visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories in October.
On Monday, 8 November, the first day of the state visit, President Halonen visited the State Duma and met the Chairman Boris Gryzlov. On Monday evening President Medvedev and Mrs Medvedeva hosted an unofficial banquet for President Halonen and Dr Arajärvi at the Gorki residence.
On Wednesday, 10 November President Halonen visited the city of Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan, where she met the President of Tatarstan. The visit included tours of the new technology centre and the Kazan State University, one of Russia’s oldest universities.
The delegation of the President of the Republic includes Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen as well as a high level corporate delegation.
President Halonen and President Medvedev agreed on the visit last summer when President Medvedev visited Kultaranta. President Medvedev made a state visit to Finland in April 2009. President Halonen visited the summer residence of the Russian President in Sochi in August 2009 and made an official visit to Russia in June 2000.