Russia's Putin Defends Export Tariffs on Raw Timber

Feb. 15, 2008 (Helsingin Sanomat) - Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Russia is standing firm in its decision to impose export tariffs on raw timber – a plan that is causing serious problems for the Finnish wood processing industry.

Speaking in the Kremlin on Thursday at the last large press conference of his second term, Putin said that Russia's task is to develop the wood processing industry inside Russia.

At the beginning of the press conference, Putin spoke for about six minutes, and after that, spent four and a half hours answering questions put to him by journalists.

The event broke all previous records, with its record number of questions, record number of journalists, and record-long duration.

The Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, asked Putin what kind of advice he had given his likely successor Dmitri Medvedev on how to handle relations with Finland.

In his answer, Putin took up the "question of raw timber".

"We understand the concern of our Finnish partners, and we understand that Finnish companies need to secure the availability of raw material", Putin said. "But you also should understand us. We want to develop further processing within our country, and that is quite normal."

"We do not want to hurt the Finnish economy - goodness no - but we are considering further processing of wood in our own country."

Putin said that Russia has no other options than to increase its own processing of wood.

"We are trying to make decisions that do not hurt our partners. Together we will find a solution", Putin said.

Putin's comments were in line with what Russian ministers and officials have said before. Russia has repeatedly urged Finnish forest companies to build production facilities in Russia, which would make it unnecessary to export raw wood to Finland.

A report by the Finnish Forest Research Institute issued on Thursday calculated that employment in the east of Finland would decline by nearly 6,000 man years if the export tariff programme is fully implemented, and if imports of wood from Russia cannot be replaced by other sources.

Putin has not given Medvedev advice concerning Finland or other matters. He said that he would not have endorsed a person for President who would have needed advice on something.

During his presidency, Putin has praised relations between Russia and Finland in many ways. Now he described Finland as a good and desirable neighbour. He also said that he "has no reason to doubt" that relations will remain good under his successor as well.

SOURCE: Helsingin Sanomat

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