Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Russian President Vladimir Putin have now both met and appeared together at a conference on the Arctic in St. Petersburg.
Three presidents, from Finland, Iceland and Russia, and two prime ministers, from Norway and Sweden, stepped onto the stage in front of animated images of ships which, by all means, once tried to sail the northeast passage. It is the sea route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean north of Europe and Asia.
The Arctic is what the whole conference is all about and it was also what the Nordic representatives wanted to talk about, the possibilities for constructive dialogue in a forum that deals with something other than just security policy.
But the difficult issues, about the annexation of Crimea in 2014, on the war in Eastern Ukraine and on the sanctions against Russia introduced after 2014 could not be avoided. A stubborn moderator who kept the conversation constantly raised questions about the Crimea and the countries’ poor relations.
Vladimir Putin talked about how unfair the sanctions are against Russia but pointed out that Europe is losing more money to them than Russia. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven held a rather low profile during the conversation and avoided answering the question whether there was a thawing of relations with Russia. He pointed out that there are differences in several opinions between the countries, but that it is also important to have good relations with regard to other issues.
Whether Norway or Sweden have had such work meetings with Vladimir Putin for a long time, not after the annexation of the Crimea. Vladimir Putin said it is clear that a miserable storm is already a fact on the Arctic due to the climate, but perhaps this meeting is also a turnaround, though somewhat more positive, that perhaps these bilateral work meetings indicate that relations between the EU and Russia is getting better.
Everyone on stage also talked about the need to engage in dialogue with Russia, but only on certain issues. There are clearly more issues to discuss between countries than the serious conflicts that distinguish them. Climate change was something that all the Nordic leaders raised in their speeches, something that Vladimir Putin also commented on. He argued that it is not entirely certain what caused climate change but argued that Russia will implement the Paris Agreement.
Vladimir Putin also wanted a Swedish team to start playing in the Russian hockey league KHL. Stefan Löfven politely answered that there were many good hockey players in both the Soviet Union and Russia, but that his team at home may not be completely ready to play in Russia.