THE NEW BALTIC SEA REGION - PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS
Ladies and Gentlemen
I appreciate the invitation to address this distinguished audience. I know your day is a busy one, so I will endeavour to keep my remarks
This morning I had an opportunity to exchange views with the Secretary of State Mr. Warren Christopher. Among the topics we discussed were the recent events in Russia. Developments within Russia, which has a Baltic Sea coast line, have an impact on the region as a whole. Therefore, I would first like to share some thoughts on Russia from a Finnish point of view.
Sharing 800 miles of boundary with Russia, Finland follows closely the twists and turns of post-Soviet Russian politics.
Russian democracy is very young and its institutions are still developing. What may look like a turf battle between the executive and
the legislative branches could be better described as a struggle for the future direction of post-Communist Russia.
Russia is now ruled by presidential powers. It is important that the December elections be free and fair. I believe that the presence of
international monitors would contribute to a successful electoral process.
Finland, like other Western States, firmly supports reform in Russia. We believe that President Yeltsin is the principal exponent of this
policy, and we reiterated our support for him during the recent events also. We believe that stability will be best achieved if Russia stays
on a twin course of democracy and market economy.
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What was earlier a "Europe of blocs" has now become a "Europe of regions". Our continent has been freed of the straitjacket imposed on it for over forty years. Finland, too, is actively promotingcooperation within its own region, both bilaterally and through
Of course, cooperation among the Nordic countries has always been of special importance for us. That will hardly change even if the Nordic countries have been looking more and more toward the European Community.
It is encouraging that Russia and the Baltic States have already joined various forms of regional dialogue. A recently created forum
is the Council of the Baltic Sea States, comprising all states bordering the Baltic Sea. Another is the Barents Sea Euro-Arctic
Council, in which the United Staes also participates as an observer.
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Next, I would like to turn to the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Finland welcomes these new neighbors which regained their independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We know how hard they worked preparing their statehood during the last years of Soviet rule. Their road to full sovereignty has not been easy. The most important problem is the withdrawal of ex-Soviet troops from these countries, in accordance with the committment Russia made last year. The last Russian soldier left Lithuania at the end of August. The Russian military is also pulling out from Estonia and Latvia, although at a very slow pace.
Integrating the Russian population into the social fabric of local Baltic communities is not easy. Russians are seen rather as a remnant
of the occupying force, than as a minority in their own right. It is important that this historic background is understood in the West.
Dealing with minorities is not only a question of drafting liberal legislation - which I believe is already largely in place - but also of a generous implementation of such laws when they concern those who want to become citizens of the Baltic countries.
From the very beginning, Finland has actively supported the development of structures enhancing the sovereignty of the Baltic
states, notably in Estonia. We are also one of their biggest donors. Today, Finland is Estonia's biggest foreign trade partner. Geographic proximity and the fact that Finns and Estonians speak closely related languages are key factors that explain the rapidly growing ties between Finland and Estonia.
Our efforts have not been limited to bilateral cooperation. Together with neighboring Nordic countries and many others we have supported the efforts of the Baltic countries to take their rightful place in various international organizations, such as the Council of Europe.Finland hopes that Russia could also soon join the Council of Europe.
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For centuries, the Baltic Sea has served as a trade corridor between Northern and Central Europe. The Hansa League has been followed by more modern arrangements, but trading needs have remained basically the same.
Last year Finland decided to apply for membership in the European Community. For us it was a major political decision, based mainly on economic but also on security policy considerations. The decision was made easier by the fact that Finland is a thoroughly European country, a member of the Euro-Atlantic Community. We share the common values of democracy, market economy, rule of law and respect for the rights of the individual.
From a geopolitical point of view, Finland is situated in a historically sensitive region. We continue to emphasize the merits of Finland's military non-alliance and independent defense. We believe that they contribute to the security and stability of the continent as a whole.
The future European Union will include a common foreign and security policy - and eventually a common defense policy which may lead to common defense. Finland is prepared to take part in the union's common foreign and security policy and its further development as outlined in the Maastricht Treaty. We do not, for our part, exclude any options as far as military security is concerned.
The European Community is an anchor of stability in Europe. We believe that by joining the Community, we can best secure our economic interests and enhance security and stability in the whole of Europe . Our membership in the EC would be a positive building block also in the post-cold war Baltic Sea region.
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Today, all of Europe and North America share values expressed in the CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe. Bearing in mind the problems in other parts of Europe, Finland is committed to work together with its neighbors to ensure that the Charter of Paris retain its full value as a politically binding code of conduct.
Security cannot be limited to military aspects only. Increasing attention should be paid to issues like the safety of nuclear installations and environmental protection. Social and economic problems may cause uncontrolled mass migration, aggravating ethnic tensions. These and other non-military threats have come to the surface in post-cold-war Europe.
Concrete support for the former Communist countries is essential if they are to pursue a managed transition to a market economy. Finland quite agrees with the United States that the Western countries should view aid to Russia as an investment. New divisions in Europe, be they political or economic, should be avoided. The Baltic Sea region, situated on a historic fault line between East and West, would greatly profit if Europe were again to become a whole and entire.
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Finally, I would like to point out that the relative strategic importance of the Russian areas close to Finland has increased as a result of Russian pullout elsewhere. The number of troops and conventional armaments in the Leningrad military district has grown noticeably. Finland does not feel itself threatened but follows closely all changes in military capabilities in its vicinity. We understand that the current build-up is meant to be temporary and that it is not directed against us.
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The United States presence in Europe after the Second World War has been an important element of stability. The "Pax Americana" in its post-World War meaning may have come to an end. But I trust that the American military presence will retain its significance even as
European security structures are being further developed.
The relations between the United States and Russia will continue to affect the political temperature in Northern Europe. Nuclear strategy will of course remain one of the key aspects of this relationship, but I trust that partnership and cooperation will play an increasing role.
From the Finnish point of view such positive development would greatly contribute to the network of partnerships now being cultivated in the Baltic Sea area.
Thank you very much.