The Far North Belongs to Russia! St. Petersburg Holds International Arctic Forum!
We begin with Saint Petersburg, which opened the International Arctic Forum today. Vladimir Putin arrived in the city in order to take part in it. In his speech, the Russian president announced a series of important initiatives regarding the Russian North. Moscow intends to modernize arctic harbors and upgrade its icebreaker fleet. The government will accelerate the development of legislation implementing benefits for businesses that invest money in the Arctic. Foreign investors were invited to fund the construction of hub-ports in Murmansk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. However, since several state leaders attended the forum, the conversation wasn't limited to the economy alone. The issues of the North presented an opportunity to discuss critical issues all around the world.
Alexey Petrov with the details from Saint Petersburg.
Dozens of booths at the forum illustrate how the Russian North is changing. From advanced LNG technologies to new-generation tankers, such as the Christophe de Margerie. Dozens of other breakthrough projects are in development. Everything shows that the development of the Arctic is a strategic task for Russia. The rapid development of Russia's Arctic facilities couldn't leave its neighbors indifferent. It's no surprise that the conversation gradually went beyond the arctic agenda. Moreover, the forum gives an opportunity to discuss the changing of the political sentiments in Europe.
John Fryer, moderator: «The leaders of Sweden and Norway are also here. Don't you think that it's a kind of a breakthrough? The bad relations Russia had with the EU for the last several years are getting better, a thaw is beginning».
Vladimir Putin: «Unfortunately, there's a thaw in the Arctic. It's much quicker than the planet-wide global warming. Four times quicker, can you imagine that? But when it comes to political relations, it's definitely a positive process. We just had a bilateral meeting with the president of Finland and recalled that we hold such meetings on a regular basis».
The statement by the president of Iceland, who studied Russian at university, visibly cheered up the audience.
Guðni Johannesson, President of Iceland [Speaking Russian]: «There's nothing more precious on Earth than true friendship. Thank you very much».
But despite the loud words, the collective West has imposed all kinds of sanctions against Russia in recent years. Nobody's happy about that but over the last five years, our country has learned to live off its own production and resources.
Vladimir Putin: «Speaking of whether we suffer from the pressure of the sanction well, we do suffer, but the damage is not critical. It even serves as a sort of a boost toward developing our own technologies. Last year, we invested in import substitution, which means producing something that we used to import from abroad. How much did we invest in import substitution last year? He doesn't remember. The Minister of Economic Development doesn't remember. About one billion rubles. We'll keep doing that. We'll increase our effort».
Russia is ready to cooperate with Europe in a variety of fields. However, the US is obviously throwing a wrench into its partners' plans.
Vladimir Putin: «Take the Nord Stream 2, for instance. Our American friends are fighting it. But it's obviously profitable for our European partners. „No, don't build it.“ It's hard to work with the EU. And their demands to increase defense spendings? What do you think that's all about? Do you think it was triggered by the deterioration of the international situation? That's just an excuse. The main motivation is to use additional European money to fund the USA's defense industry. That's it».
At the same time, when it comes to the U.S.'s interests, the White House forgets about the sanctions.
Vladimir Putin: «Despite all of the sanction instruments, the first shipment from Yamal LNG went straight to the United States. It sounds funny, but it's a fact. And the trade continues. Our American partners and friends promote everything that's profitable and ban everything that's not. They only care about their profit. They haven't cared about the interests of other countries in recent years».
Moreover, all sanctions must be approved by the U.N. Security Council. However, when the West accuses Russia of violating international law, they ignore this and many other circumstances.
Vladimir Putin: «For some reason, no sanctions have been imposed for interfering with the domestic affairs of other countries, for disorganizing domestic political life, for destabilizing those states. No sanctions have been imposed against those who get it to the point when other countries are forced to take certain measures to defend their interests. Let's get back to respecting the basics of international law, the U.N. Charter. Perhaps, in that case, we won't have to think about the consequences of the bombing of Yugoslavia or some other things connected to similar gross violations of international law and their consequences».
— How long will the sanctions remain in effect? What awaits Russia in the future?
Vladimir Putin: «The future of Russia doesn't depend on the sanctions. The future of Russia depends only on us.
The conversation shifted to oil prices on world markets. Russia is happy with the current prices. Moscow is monitoring the markets and is ready to cooperate with OPEC. However, Russia is not responsible for possible fluctuations. Other world players are, and they often act unpredictably.
Vladimir Putin: „We used to keep production on the shelf, as oilers say, without increasing it. The market situation may develop in such a way that oil reserves rapidly increase. For example, in the case of the U.S. seizing Venezuela's oil and quickly selling it on world markets or something positive happens in Libya, God willing the political situation there goes back to normal and Libya enters the world market. You're trying to pry out a more specific response but you won't get it. We'll cooperate with OPEC and make our decisions based on the market situation“.
Arctic security is one of the key matters. The moderator noted that three weeks ago, Russian bombers allegedly flew over Norway's territory. Putin doesn't agree with that. The bombers only flew over neutral waters. In addition, even such situations could've been avoided thanks to the initiative of by Finnish president, who proposed to make all military aircraft fly with their transponders on so ass to make it easy to track their location.
Vladimir Putin: „We agreed. And immediately introduced this proposal as part of our relations with NATO. NATO responded negatively. Go ask NATO why they didn't agree to that“.
The moderator asked if Trump will be able to deliver on his promise to improve America's relations with Russia. One year ago, the White House host invited Vladimir Putin to Washington. The Russian president responded with a quote from a novel by Ilf and Petrov.
Vladimir Putin: „There's a saying: “Come visit us, my old mama will be happy to see you. But I won't give you my address.» The situation must ripen. From the very beginning, we kept saying that the notorious Mr. Mueller's commission wouldn't find anything. Because nobody knows it better than we do. Russia didn't interfere with any elections in the United States. That's first. Secondly, there was no collusion between Trump and Russia, which is what Mr. Mueller was searching for. That's complete nonsense, created exclusively for the domestic audience and used in the political infighting within the United States. In the end, it's no surprise that it followed the «mountain brought forth a mouse» scenario. But we knew that it would end like this. I kept telling you that".
Putin wasn't the only one to refer to the literary legacy at the forum held in the Capital of Culture.
Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden: «It's a city of great historic importance for Russian-Swedish relations. It reminds us of the peaceful and not-so-peaceful times of our long, common history. Or, if I quote the great Pushkin: The Swede from here will be frightened; Here, a great city will be wrought To spite our neighborhood conceited».
Vladimir Putin: «I'd like to quote another poem, Poltava. Hurrah! The Swedes, at last, are broken. These lines refer to the Battle of Poltava. Now, we usually recall them when we watch our team play against Sweden. Unfortunately for our fans we often can't replay the same scenario because the brilliant Swedish hockey team makes all hockey fans happy, be they Swedes or Russians».
Experts claim that there's enough work in the North for everybody. Arctic development is one of the key fields for Russia. At the same time, Russia respects the interests of its partners and expects them to cooperate.
Alexey Petrov, Alexandra Terpugova Oleg Makarov, and Oleg Shavyrin Vesti, St. Petersburg.