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27.5.2004 Vladimir M. Grinin, Venäjän Federaation suurlähettiläs: Venäjä - Suomi - EU

Vladimir M. Grinin, Ambassador of Russian Federation
May 27, 2004
Russia - Finland - EU

We view Finland as a valuable partner in developing our overall relations with the EU. The Finns are undoubtedly the EU's experts on Russia. Finland's experience of good-neighbor cooperation despite all the difficult stages and hardships of our not so far away past, can offer many positive guidelines for new EU members. Many decision elaborated in Brussels are carried out in the vicinity of our Russian-Finnish border with direct impact on our mutual interests and practical cooperation. That makes us natural partners in ensuring that those decisions are scrupulously calculated and properly executed. And we are strongly interested in Finnish good-advice potential.

A dialog between Russia and Finland on EU matters is also necessary because so far we have not yet managed to work out a clear and comprehensive Russia-EU language. In order to do so we strongly rely on assistance from countries like Finland who have much less difficulties in interpreting what we want to say. Despite the overall successful dialog with the EU we seem to be constantly going trough up and down periods. Now, both sides willingly recognize that our relations are a "strategic partnership" but attempts to harvest that partnership, to put it into practice sometimes produce a certain amount of confusion. Maybe it's because we lack some mutual strategic vision - the EU Common Strategy on Russia was written without the participation of Russia itself and we came out with a similar home-made EU Strategy.

The lack of that commonly shared strategic vision leads yet to another problem - misunderstanding on where the mainstream of our cooperation should be drawn - in politics or economics. Some people say that since Russia is by European terms an economic midget whereas the EU is an economic giant, in the foreseeable future Russian-EU dialog will be focused on various aspects of trade policy.

Moreover, some even predict that it is the way things should stay. There are opinions that since Russia has seized deeming itself a Euro-Asiatic superpower, it's foreign policy momentum is going to be westbound only and, since Moscow has adopted a policy of crude realism it's mostly preoccupied with domestic economic problems and badly needs EU support to solve them. So, Russia-EU relations should be mainly business and not politics.

In fact that perception seems very deceiving. It has very little in common with reality. The world is facing a globalization phenomenon. Europe is going global and so are we. For Russia going global means being more European. This is the true picture of our modern reality. Everything is becoming interdependable, opportunities and challenges alike. It's hard to distinguish where economy ends and politics start and visa versa. The enlarged EU is moving forward and a new international entity is clearly being formed. Russia should be interested in strong political ties with that entity. It's safe to assume the interest being mutual. We see there is a great potential in that field and a lot to gain.

As to the present state of our relations with the EU we seem to be rapidly advancing in the right direction. We've managed to pass the test of pre-enlargement controversy - and it has been a difficult endeavor for both sides that left us a bit panting and scratched but nevertheless very much alive and willing. We've made progress with our concept of four common European spaces that pretty much covers the whole field of our present and future cooperation with the EU - from trade to culture and from science to security. At the Russia-EU summit meeting in Moscow last month we've agreed to start working on specific action plans or road maps on implementing that concept. We've managed to conclude our negotiations on Russia's accession to the WTO and there is no need to say how important that is. Russia's president in his recent address to the Federal Council outlined the primary goals of our economic development and it is quite clear that for Russia there is no other option than membership in the WTO. We also intend to begin negotiations on a Russia-EU visa agreement this summer.

At the same time we do recognize that we still have unsolved problems with the EU both of practical and of principal nature. One of them is the so-called humanitarian issue - the problem of Russian speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia. Now, after the enlargement it is as much a EU problem as it is ours. We also have unsettled trade related matters, many of them connected with the EU enlargement. The joint Russia-EU statement on enlargement made last April in Luxemburg offers a solid basis for such settlement but it will surely take time and efforts from both sides.

Advanced Russian-Finnish dialog on EU-matters is undoubtedly beneficial for both Russia and Finland. Our goal is cooperation on enhanced and detailed studies of practical aspects of the EU's unified Russia-policy.

President Ahtisaari in the late 90-es came up with the idea that the Russian-Finnish border can be a laboratory of Russia-EU relations. It seems now is the proper time to put that idea to hard work.