No deal yet on continuing Russian timber transports through Saimaa Canal

The canal was completed in 1856, linking Finland's largest lake with the Baltic Sea via the port of Vyborg.

The Saimaa canal is 42km long. Image: Meriaura oy, Lappeenrannan kaupunki

Russia still plans to end transports of timber via the Saimaa Canal, with a bilateral economic policy body failing to resolve the issue on Thursday.

If realised, the move would reduce traffic on the canal by a third from the start of November. Finland was keen to get Russia to reconsider at a meeting of a bilateral trade body on Thursday.

Ville Skinnari (SDP), Finland's Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, said on Thursday evening that progress had been made but no solution had yet been found.

"The problems mostly relate to technical details," said Skinnari after a meeting of the Finnish-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Co-operation, which is co-chaired by Skinnari and Russia's Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov.

Lappeenranta MP Jukka Kopra (NCP) said on Thursday that the move by the Russian government was surprising but not unheard of.

"These kinds of issues happen from time to time around border issues, and they have been resolved together with the Russians," said Kopra.

The decision came about because Russia has introduced new rules governing which border posts can handle timber products.

"And in this case it happens that the Russian customs post on the Saimaa Canal has been taken off that list," said Mikko Kivikoski, Deputy Director General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Department for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Progress was made, however, according to Skinnari.

"We now have a joint picture of the issue, and we see how important the Saimaa Canal is to us both," said Skinnari.

Finland is now aiming to send additional information to Russia on the canal's timber transports and other freight that passes through the canal.

The 42km canal runs from the Saimaa Canal in Lappeenranta through Lake Nuijamaa on the border with Russia to the port of Vyborg.