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Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström: Cooperation with Russia is productive, especially against the background of problems in our relations

On counter-productive law on "foreign agents", environmental threats from Russia and unwillingness to join NATO

Margot Wallström
by Alexey Kleshchinov
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Cooperation between Russia and Sweden is productive, but it is complicated by several problems. For example, the law on "foreign agents", the slow discussion and resolution of environmental problems and attempts to destabilize the situation in the Baltic region. This opinion was expressed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Margot Wallström in a conversation with the «7x7» correspondent Maxim Polyakov.

On October 18, Minister Vallström visited Arkhangelsk for the 16th Ministerial Session of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. In between sessions and lectures at the Northern Arctic Federal University, the Minister answered the questions of the online journal.


The law on "foreign agents" is counterproductive

How can you characterize cooperation with Russia at the sub-state level? For example, in the Barents Region or in the Baltic?

“We appreciate our cooperation. At the moment we believe that it is constructive. Especially in the field of scientific research, around the challenges in the field of climate, shared by us, etc. This is especially valuable against the background of problems in our relations.”

And what are the problem points?

“Now it is more difficult to come into contact between peoples. For example: earlier Russian children often went to summer camps in the Swedish regions of Norrbotten and Västerbotten. Now it has practically stopped or it has become more difficult. The law on "foreign agents" adopted in Russia, which is also an obstacle, hinders cooperation.”

What is your assessment of the law on "foreign agents"? On October 18, the environmental organization "Aetas" will be sued for not voluntarily applying for inclusion in the register of the Ministry of Justice. It was this NGO that worked closely with organizations from the Barents region.

“Usually during my trips, I ask to organize meetings with representatives of civil society. Today we had such a meeting, there was a representative of the organization "Aetas". As for the law on "foreign agents", it is counterproductive. It leads to the fact that at the local level, there is no cooperation that could give results. For example, cooperation between the Saami organizations. Fighters for saving the climate can not interact with each other optimally. For us, this immediately creates a problem of cooperation between the northern countries. Once again, it is counterproductive.”



Why is this happening?

“Why did they pass the law?”

If you say that this law is counterproductive, then why do you think Russia accepted it, sent such a signal to its partners?

"I do not want to guess. Only the Russian government can respond this question. Our colleagues from other countries and those who cooperate with us in the Arkhangelsk region within the Arctic Council, share the view that it is unproductive, it hinders contacts.”

What does "political activity" mean [NGOs in Russia are recognized as "foreign agents", if, according to the Ministry of Justice, there are two conditions — foreign financing and political activity, while the concept of "political activity" is treated very broadly]?

“In our society, civil society and criticism that the authorities receive from society are parts of political activity, it is beneficial to the country. People are happy to receive such criticism. It is not clear why it is not accepted in Russian society, because this is one of the engines of this process. It is important for us not to obstruct the activities of NGOs, as they are an integral part of our democracy.”


"I hope that Russia is ready to accept our help"

What environmental threats do you see on the part of Russia?

“Threats can be divided into several groups. The first threat is the consequences of the disarmament process in the Arctic. The second is the extraction and transportation of oil. If there is a leak, then a whole generation can feel the consequences of oil spill. Also, water pollution is a threat. Only recently there were treatment facilities in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad [projects implemented with the support of Sweden, Finland and the European Union]. But there are still several sources of this pollution, which harm waters, fisheries, human health and the development of tourism.”

How do you assess Russia's efforts in solving these problems? Is our country ready to accept help from Sweden?

“I hope that Russia is ready to accept our help. A great deal of work in this area is being carried out by the Swedish embassy, ​​which is working to promote waste recycling technologies in Russia, to represent the state-of-the-art technologies that we have at our disposal. Let's think about how long we had to wait for the opening of these treatment facilities in St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. It took 17 years. But cooperation is possible, there are examples. We want to show these technologies, we are ready to transmit them. Everyone will benefit from this.”



I understand your concern: you want your neighbor to discharge clean water so that there are no oil spills. But you yourself mentioned 17 years! It's a very long time. Why are these issues solved in Russia for so long?

“I would like to have a good answer to this question. It seems to us that this is corruption and big administrative obstacles in no small part that are difficult to overcome. This is a combination of factors. We wondered why it took so long. It seems to us that it is in the interests of Russia that this should happen sooner. After all, while this does not happen, Russia pays a high price: its own water is polluted, fish can no longer be caught, tourist flows are violated. It is important to remember that investors unwillingly deal with the countries with high level of corruption. I would like to have a simple answer, but there is no such. It's probably I should have asked you this question.”


There is no direct military threat from Russia

What is it like being a neutral country next to Russia?

“Sweden is not a neutral country. It is a country free from participation in military alliances. Our policy is built on three main components: our defense must have a high level of defensive capacity, we must be free of military alliances, we rely on cooperation.”

Do you see a military threat from Russia? In 2015, the series "Occupied" was released, according to which Russia captured Norway. This, of course, is a joke. But there are a lot of subtexts in this series.

“No. We do not believe that there is a direct military threat. This picture is not realistic. But we see a turbulent situation in the Baltic region in general. We saw provocative behavior on the part of Russia. If there are any provocations in the Baltic region, this [provocation] can not but affect Sweden. We object that Russia is interfering in the debate about NATO that we have. We ourselves, as a country, will make a decision. And we will take any negative interference from your country. In our opinion, Russia creates problems due to the fact that it violates the European security order. Russia has seized the territory of a neighboring state, does not respect the position on the borders that are fixed in the OSCE. The aggression of Russia in Eastern Ukraine stands in the way of the development of our good relations.”

What is the probability of Sweden joining NATO?

"My government is actively opposed to this. For 200 years there was such an order. We want to keep it. We are actively working on this, especially on the three points which I mentioned.”

Sweden has not participated in wars for 200 years. How did you manage it?

“It's a long story. We are the country that aspired to this. Sweden built stability and prosperity within the country. But history also spared us: we did not have wars that took place elsewhere. This question requires a longer and more detailed answer. In general, it's good to have a few enemies.”

Material prepared for the project «Our Eyes on Barents» — a joint media partnership of the Barents Region

Maxim Polyakov, photo by Alexey Kleshchinov, «7x7»


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