16 October 200914:08

Transcript of Remarks and Response to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference after 12th Barents Euro-Arctic Council Session in Murmansk, October 15, 2009

1552-16-10-2009

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The just-concluded 12th Barents Euro-Arctic Council session summed up the results of the Russian Chairmanship over the past two years. All of the plans had been fulfilled. We thank our Council partners for their voiced appreciation of our work at this post.

We are pleased that we were able to contribute to the strengthening of cooperation in the Barents region, and to carry out all that we planned. I shall note the signing of the first inter-governmental agreement in the BEAC's history on cooperation in a specific area – dealing with emergency situations.

Most recently, a large-scale international rescue exercise called "Barents Rescue 2009" took place here, in the Murmansk Region. A series of long-term cooperation programs and projects was approved dealing with culture, health, protection of the interests of the indigenous peoples of the region and other spheres, and their implementation has begun.

A new working group – on tourism – was set up. A number of high-level meetings and theoretical and practical conferences were held, in particular, on business cooperation enhancement, transport development, climate change response, and the expansion of youth exchanges.

Our parliamentarians worked actively. Interaction between the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Barents Regional Council grew stronger. With the active support of local leaders, productive meetings of the Committee of Senior Officials were held in all the Russian regions that are part of the Barents Regional Council (Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Regions, the Republics of Karelia and Komi, and the Nenets Autonomous Area).

The Murmansk Economic Forum opening today is also largely related to those initiatives that Russia promoted during its Chairmanship in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. A joint communiqué was adopted at the conclusion of the session – it is a very concrete document.

Once again I want to emphasize that the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, along with the Arctic Council, from Russia's point of view, is a major intergovernmental organization in the region, helps to tackle real practical issues, brings real benefit to people, demonstrates the ability to respond quickly to changing situations, and has excellent prospects for further development.

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate the invariable support of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council from Russia, and to thank my respected partners for the joint work, and Murmansk Region Governor Dmitry Dmitriyenko and his colleagues for their hospitality and a well-organized session.

I wish success to the Swedish Chairmanship, who took over the watch for the next two years.

Question: When and how is the BEAC going to deal with shelf boundary issues? This topic stirs sharp debate, including in the context of hydrocarbon reserves.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Frankly speaking, I haven't noticed any sharp debate or controversy on this theme. Continental shelf delineation issues are not dealt with in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, but directly in the negotiations between neighbor countries. In particular, we are engaged in such negotiations with Norway. An agreement has already been reached on one small, albeit important, section, and this document has entered into force.

On the remaining issues of delimitation in the Barents Sea, our negotiations are developing successfully, and we expect they will be completed very soon. However, the BEAC has nothing to do with and does not deal with these matters.

Question: At the workshop on cross-border cooperation there was much talk about simplifying the visa regime between Russia and Norway, about a visa-free regime for border-area residents and about easing migration rules so that foreigners could travel more freely in the Murmansk Region. Do you plan to do something within the BEAC?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: My answer will be simple. We are interested in the maximum possible simplification of the border crossing regime, especially for border-area residents. We are talking about it with our Norwegian neighbors. I think that in relations with our other Northern neighbors the matter is likewise very topical, and the projects planned under BEAC auspices, in particular, today we announced the creation of a new working group on tourism, will pay attention to this crucial aspect for the people living here.

I should add that in the last year a whole array of settlements on the Russian side of the border with Norway and Finland were removed from the border zone regime. Furthermore, restrictions are lifted on international motor traffic along the Murmansk-Kirkenes route, and other steps have been taken. This work will continue.

Question: How has BEAC cooperation changed the lives of the people and the region over the past 16 years?

Sergey Lavrov (in addition to the response of Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store): I want to draw attention to the fact that today's meeting was open to the press. If you carefully listen and read what was said, you will hear a lot of assessments characterizing the new quality of the Barents cooperation, especially in terms of the positive life of the people in this region. Not only ministers spoke, but also representatives from regional and municipal authorities did, representatives of the indigenous peoples, and members of parliament. I am convinced that those wishing to know how life has changed in the Barents region can learn much of interest both from the debate, as well as from documents publicly available that describe our cooperation in detail.

Question: To develop regional cooperation it is necessary to have a simplified system of customs and permit regime, in particular, in the context of developing the Shtokman Field. Was this matter discussed at the highest level?

Sergey Lavrov (in addition to Gahr Store's response): I wish to support my colleague and say that the problem of traffic jams and congestion at the border is connected, not only and not so much with the increased mutual communication between residents and business people on both sides of the border, but with the large transit flows in the transport of goods to Russia that are not produced in any one of our neighboring countries. It is necessary to unload these transit flows, let them bypass the border, which is already very heavily used by border-area residents and businesses.

With regard to the Shtokman Field, I have not heard about any problems of a cross-border, customs or other character that would seriously disturb the participants in this project.

October 16, 2009

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