President Halonen hopes to learn more of role of Russian presidency during Medvedev visit
President Tarja Halonen was brimming with excitement last week, in advance of this week’s visit to Finland by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
The visit is President Medvedev’s first state visit to Finland.
Halonen says that he is most interested to hear how Medvedev sees his own position, in light of legislative and administrative changes to presidential authority.
The powers of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have been increased, while the role of the President is mainly to draw the broader lines of policy.
“It is interesting to see what kind of attitude he has taken, and what he feels the position of the President is.”
Halonen admitted in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat last week that the mission of her guest is not an easy one.
“Looking at Russia in general, it is such a multi-layered cake. Fortunately I am not the president there”, she laughs, listing the great challenges facing Russia.
Halonen emphasised that while she does not want to try to serve as a teacher to the Russians, she is certainly willing to be a partner and a listener.
She says she is certain that the ordinary average Russian would appreciate a “certain stability” in the country. She speaks of the basic rule of law, in which nobody in Russia needs to be afraid that the secret police might knock on the door, as was the case in the Soviet period.
Halonen has met her guest on three occasions before he became president, and once last summer in Hanti Mansia in Siberia when Medvedev had taken over the presidency. They have also had telephone conversations.
According to Halonen, Medvedev is a leader of a new generation. Halonen has the impression that Medvedev wants reform, and takes a positive view of internationalism, but is so far less experienced than his predecessor.
“It may well be that Medvedev will become a very visible president in his own way, even though his beginning has perhaps been overshadowed by his predecessor.”
Which of the two is the leader of Russia’s foreign policy?
“Apparently they are seeking to establish this kind of Western system in which there is both a prime minister and a president. It is not a monarchy, as is the case with some of our neighbouring countries”, Halonen says, in apparent reference to Finland’s two-tier foreign policy leadership system, in which both the president and prime minister attend EU summits.
The Finnish government listed the sore spots of Finnish-Russian relations in its Russia programme, which was made public on Thursday. One problem is that the government says that it is possible to solve problems with the Russians at a higher level, but that matters that have been agreed upon are left undone.
“That could also be said. I would say that Nordic administrative practice is much more precise. We always speak about good governance, but we do not know the details of the Russian administrative system. Good governance is still in the development stage.”
Forgetting what has been agreed upon should not be seen as an exclusively Russian problem, Halonen says. She has often seen in Europe that political will and implementing decisions are two different things.
During Medvedev’s visit, there will be discussions on traditional matters, such as lorry queues at the border; the lines have recently grown shorter, as a result of the economic slump.
Russia’s human rights situation is not very good. Corruption is also endemic. Halonen is cautious when commenting on Russia’s internal problems. “He [Medvedev] is undoubtedly concerned about these matters himself.”
Halonen says, in the traditional manner, that Finland needs to support Russia’s development toward democracy, the rule of law, and good governance, but Finland must not start offering lessons in public.
Finland has always enthusiastically offered its services to the great powers as a neutral venue for negotiations. This continues to be the case now, with the prospect of new negotiations between the USA and Russia over the START nuclear pact.
A smile appears on President Halonen’s face. “As I told President Barack Obama, no matter what the season they come to Finland, a sauna will always be warm.”
She then becomes more serious, and says that Finland will do all it can to help warm relations between the USA and Russia.
“Perhaps these processes can be supported positively in the discussions that will be held next week”, said President Halonen in her interview.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Foreign Minister Stubb: Russia fails to follow through on agreements (17.4.2009)
President Medvedev to make public appearance in Helsinki on Monday (16.4.2009)
Finnish Foreign Ministry News: The Government published its Russia Action Plan