Russian tourists in Finland replaced by Asians

Following the interview with the Norwegian Consul General, the Finnish Consul General in Murmansk Pirkko Mäkikokkila shared with SeverPost her view on cross-border issues and cooperation between Russia and Finland.

- How would you assess the relations between northern regions of Russia and Finland given the current foreign political situation?

- In 2017-2019 Finland will chair the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council which will contribute to the growing importance of northern territories. Finland is one of the leaders in the field of Arctic research. In 2017 the state-owned company “Arktika” owing Finnish ice-breakers plans to carry out a research of the Arctic areas. The project may be joined by representatives of universities and research institutes.

The twin-city relations between Murmansk and Rovaniemi, as well as Kola and Inari are thriving and acquire new forms of cooperation. Finnish companies are interested in continuation of partner projects with their counterparts from the Murmansk region after elimination of sanctions. The “People to People” public diplomacy reflects in tourism and cultural sphere. In December the Murmansk office of the Consulate General of Finland will facilitate the 17th Week of Finnish Cinema in Murmansk. 

There is an increased demand for Finnish visas used mainly for tourism and shopping. The Finns appreciate seeing more Russians in Finland now. At the same time it seems like the Finns are also discovering Murmansk as the largest city in the Arctic offering rich cultural programme.

- Has your job recently changed? Are there any difficulties you encounter?

- The job has changed since Finland became even more interested in the Arctic issues. Also the Finnish officials and companies want to be well informed of Murmansk economic life and possibilities of joint projects. The Murmansk business week was attended by the Ambassador for Arctic issues of the Finnish MFA and representatives of the Consulate General in St.Petersburg. The conference on mining held in Kirovsk was attended by many Finns just like the previous year. Also the situation with refugees on the turn of 2015/2016 was appealing to many of the Murmansk region residents.

- Has the political situation reflected on funding of joint Russian-Finnish projects?

- Most part of the Finnish enterprises is located in St.Petersburg and the Leningrad region. All in all there are around 400 Finnish enterprises working in Russia. For instance, the Valio Group expanded its business thus creating jobs for Russian workers. Several Finnish enterprises relocated to St.Petersburg and the Leningrad region following the localization policy. Currently Russia is the fifth most important exporting and the third importing country for Finland. The Finland’s investments in Russia amount to 11-12bln Euro.

The international cooperation also develops in other Russian regions. For example, the international cooperation programme “Kolarctic-Karelia” covering Finnish regions Pohjois-Pohjanmaa, Lapland, Kainuu, Pohjois-Karjala and the Republic of Karelia will probably be prolonged for 2017-2019. In early 2017 Finland and Russia are to launch three funding programmes totally amounting to 180 mln Euro. These programmes are funded by the EU, Russia and Finland. 

The crises might provoke certain uncertainty about ongoing projects and future plans, but there is still a strong wish to continue the cooperation since its importance keeps growing. The multi-level cooperation involving municipalities (twin-cities), schools, NGOs and enterprises are those of special importance.

- In which fields Finland and the Murmansk region continue cooperating?

- Other areas of cooperation are tourism development and import of food products.

- How did the sanctions affect the economy of the northern regions of Finland?

- The clients flow has shrank. There are mostly Asian tourists visiting northern regions of Finland, so the hotels and others touristic facilities do not lack clients, though the shopping centers are still longing for the Russians. Although the joint plans and projects are underway.

- What’s the dynamics of visa issuance and crossing of the Russian-Finnish border?

- After the record-breaking year 2013, visa issuance has significantly decreased. It shall be taken into consideration that we mostly issue visas with a 2-years validity period, while there are many people in the Murmansk region working in military agencies that impose certain restrictions for leaving abroad.

- What is the estimated percentage of those who moved to Finland from the Murmansk region in the last year?

- Foreign citizens make about 5.5% of the total Finnish population, ¼ of them are Russians. Those who come from the Murmansk region are mostly students studying in Finland.

- Has the number of Russian students studying in Finland recently changed?

- Changes are expected to occur since in 2017 the foreign-language educational programmes shall become fee-based for non-EU/EEA citizens. Programmes in Finnish language shall remain free for foreign students. Education in Salla gymnasium, for instance, will also be provided for free.

- What are the most popular Finnish localities among the residents of the Murmansk region? What is the prevailing travel purpose?

- Many people make 1-day shopping trips to Ivalo. Saariselkä mostly offers recreational facilities (versatile accommodation, restaurants, etc.). Rovaniemi is the largest city in northern Norway visited both for leisure, shopping and cultural activities. Ivalo airport operates daily flights to Helsinki. Kemi and Keminmaa are also popular among tourists.

- How would you estimate the role of Finland in the VI Days of Russian-Norwegian cross-border cooperation?

- This year the delegation from Inari was invited to this event. Finland sees value in any form of cross-border cooperation.

- How would you describe the perspectives of the Russian-Finnish cross-border cooperation?

- The international cooperation between the Finnish and Russian border guard services is successfully developing. There are also new joint educational and health-care projects between organizations from Murmansk and Lapland planned.

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