Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb is on a three-day trip to Western Russia this week. After paying a visit to Vyborg, a town of 80,000 inhabitants near southern Finland, he made his way to St. Petersburg, where he spoke at the Russian Geographical Society to launch the Finnish-Russian Arctic Partnership.
Stubb remarked, “Let’s keep the Arctic region partnership free from red tape.” While he envisions greater multilateral cooperation in the Arctic still occurring under the auspices of the Arctic Council, he would like to streamline his country’s relations with Russia in the region. For starters, Finland will turn its service point in Murmansk into a stand-alone consulate. Currently, it is a branch of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg. While this transition has been in the works for a while as part of Finland’s Arctic Strategy, it may finally come to realization, facilitating the process for getting more Finns to work in Russia, and vice versa. Finland is also considering teaming up with Russia to promote the Northern Sea Route, as both countries would benefit from having more ships pass through their northern waters. The Presidential Envoy in the Northwestern Federal District, Ilya Klebanov, responded to Stubb’s speech by emphasizing the need to invest in the shipbuilding industry in the region.
Still, the renewed emphasis on cooperation between Russian and Finland has not been enough to stop the Kremlin from banning foreigners from purchasing land in border areas, including along the Finnish-Russian border. On January 9, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed Decree 26, which bans “foreign citizens, stateless persons and foreign legal entities” from purchasing land contained in any of the named areas on the list. 380 areas are named, including all of the land along the Norwegian and Finnish borders. This decree affects many Finns who already own land in Russia along the border.
When Stubb was asked about this issue, he stated that he was quite calm about the situation, but added, “We have a significant benefit of Russian investment in our border areas, particularly when buying property and would like to see the same situation was on the other side.” Russia has said so far that Finns already owning land will be compensated, and that foreigners will still be able to lease land alongside the border. The Finnish government has asked for a formal explanation from the Russian government, but has not yet received one.
Stubb wants to hold a follow-up seminar for the Finnish-Russian Arctic Partnership in Rovaniemi, in northern Finland. He is also hoping to turn the Arctic Information Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi into an EU Arctic Information Center. Both of these ideas are part of the larger plan emerging from Helsinki to reshape and embolden Finnish foreign policy in the Arctic.
“Finland to increase its Arctic region cooperation,” Helsingin Sanomat
“Stubb’s G-point of view,” Fontaka (in Russian)
“Finland questions Russian ban on land sales,” Barents Observer
“Stubb: The growing importance of the Arctic,” Kaleva (in Finnish)