Stubb wants to "modernise" Finnish and EU relations with Russia
Lavrov needles new colleague's lack of experience
New tones were heard in negotiations between Finland and Russia in Moscow on Friday when Finland's new Foreign Minister met his more seasoned Russian colleague for the first time.
Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) put primary emphasis on relations between the European Union and Russia. Russia's Sergei Lavrov gently ribbed his younger colleague's relative lack of experience. Otherwise, Lavrov's choice of words was cautious and conciliatory.
"I believe that it is time to modernise relations between the EU and Russia, and naturally those between Finland and Russia", Stubb said, speaking to journalists at the guest house of the Russian Foreign Ministry after his meeting with Lavrov.
According to Stubb, modernising relations means nurturing as close ties as possible both between the EU and Russia and Finland and Russia.
"Coming closer economically brings prosperity, and free trade brings prosperity", Stubb said.
He was "cautiously hopeful" that negotiations on a partnership and cooperation treaty that has been put forward as a foundation of relations, might begin in the near future.
The negotiations were originally put on hold by Poland, which accused Russia of using pressure against Poland. Now the sticking point comes from Lithuania, which is being urged to modify its position at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday and Tuesday.
Stubb repeatedly emphasised the importance of the EU in Finland's relations with Russia, and his own EU background. Stubb accumulated his previous political experience as a Member of the European Parliament.
Stubb praised the atmosphere that prevailed at the talks as excellent and relaxed. He feels that Foreign Minister Lavrov was not being sarcastic with his references to Stubb's relative inexperience at the press conference.
"We all learned a great deal", he said of the negotiations. "Lavrov is an excellent professional in OSCE matters. He has a long background at the UN, and I have one in the EU", Stubb said.
Lavrov also said at the press conference that the atmosphere during the talks was constructive. However, he referred to Stubb as "Mr. Stubb" at the press conference, while Stubb referred to Lavrov as "Sergei". In the talks they had agreed, at Lavrov's initiative, to be on a first-name basis.
Lavrov made reference to the amount of experience that Stubb has had when he said in at the press conference that he believes that the Finnish Foreign Minister will have complete command of the issues in the near future.
Answering a question put to him on Finland's possible membership in NATO, Lavrov avoided commenting on Finland's options in any way. He also refused to compare Finland's situation with that of Georgia and Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in early April that the expansion of the alliance to the borders of Russia would be a "direct threat" to Russia's future.
Lavrov said on Friday that he did not discuss NATO at all with Stubb. In his view, "the mechanical expansion of NATO would be useless - even harmful".
Lavrov was also fairly conciliatory in his comments on relations between Russia and Georgia. In his view, there is no crisis between the countries. However, in line with established Russian policy, he blamed Georgia for the crisis in Abkhasia Province, whose separatists are supported by Russia.
Georgia came up in the talks between Finland and Russia, because Finland currently holds the chairmanship of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and will have to take part in mediating in disputes in the area.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Stubb: Russia needs to be linked more closely to Europe (23.4.2008)
Foreign Minister Stubb sees no change in Russian policy on NATO (9.4.2008)