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Putin Accuses Baltics of "Ethnic Discrimination"

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Finnish President Tarja Halonen were at loggerheads when it came to the status of Russians in the Baltic states. Putin accused them of ethnic discrimination, Halonen said it was no longer a problem.

Tuesday's otherwise harmonious press conference ended on a note of discord, when a Pravda reporter asked Halonen what Finland intended to do about so-called human rights abuses against Russian-speakers in the Baltics.

Halonen responded by saying that she felt the new EU-member states had fulfilled their obligations according to the union's regulations on cultural and linguistic minorities. She did not think it would be an issue during Finland's EU presidency at the end of next year.

Putin, however, disagreed. He accused some of the Baltic countries of concocting special designations for members of their Russian minority. He says that many are still registered as non-citizens or aliens, something Putin says is against the EU's own policies.

"Good Relations"

Both Presdient Halonen and her Russian Counterpart Vladimir Putin described the unofficial meeting as positive and productive. Putin feels that bi-lateral relations rest upon a solid foundation of the two countries' shared past - histories, he stressed, that spanned much further back than Soviet times.

He especially praised burgeoning trade between the two countries, noting that cross-border commercial traffic had increased over 30 percent, with both sides seeing significant rises in both imports and exports.

The two presidents spent the rest of the day in Turku, where they had lunch and visited the university there. Putin invited Halonen to St. Petersburg in the autumn to continue talks.

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