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On Tuesday Norway’s Kirkenes hosted a session of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council to sum up the results of twenty-year-long cooperation. Speaking at the session Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called on his counterparts to introduce visa-free rules between countries of the region. Moreover, the head of government replied to a problematic question on NATO’s expansion and heard claims concerning environmental protection.
Foreign partners had what claims to lodge with Medvedev, Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote. Many of them passing through border regions saw black fumes from plants that are far from meeting any eco-standards. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt cited as an example the village of Nikel in Russia’s Murmansk region, where for 20 years nothing has changed. Emissions are not cut and black smoke poisons the air as before. Medvedev had to admit that efforts towards environmental protection move slowly. This is a very complicated issue, he made an excuse. The forum’s delegates also puzzled why all roads from Russia run through Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even from the Republic of Karelia to Norway one should travel through these megalopolises. There is simply no money for railways, Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Tapani Katainen noted.
In general, the communication proceeded in a friendly style until Medvedev was asked about NATO’s enlargement, in particular on what was his attitude to accession of Finland and Sweden to the North-Atlantic Alliance. At first, the Russian prime minister diplomatically noted that “this is their domestic affair.” But then it turned out that everything looks quite different. “Any new members of the North-Atlantic Alliance which are close to our state, of course, are taken into consideration. In fact, balance of forces changes and we have to react,” he said. The Swedish foreign minister called him to calm down, “We cannot move forward independently from NATO. Thus, Norway’s membership of the alliance does not affect your cooperation.”
Medvedev called on his counterparts to open borders and to introduce visa-free rules between countries of the region as soon as possible, Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote. He also called for more active commercial development of the Northern Sea Route - the shortest waterway between Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region. Medvedev promised that Russia would continue to upgrade its coastal and transport infrastructure, including the construction of new railways.
The prime minister recalled that the year of 2013 was proclaimed as the Year of Environmental Protection in Russia.
“We continue to do what we called the Arctic clean-up expedition. At present, Alexandra Land (a large island located in Franz Josef Land), Bely Island have already been cleaned up and the works are underway in the village of Anderma. The next stage is Wrangel Island. Thus, this work in our country will be certainly continued,” Medvedev said.