If international security issues occupied a prominent place in Chretien’s discussion agenda during his talks in Moscow, the major thrust of his visit appears nevertheless to have involved an effort to boost trade and economic relations between Canada and Russia. Indeed, the visit by “team Canada”–the term used by both sides to describe the large Canadian contingent–marked the fulfillment of a pledge made by Ottawa in 1998 to bring a high-level trade delegation to Russia. The earlier visit was postponed in the wake of Russia’s 1998 financial crisis, and the team’s arrival last week appeared designed to signal a recognition by Ottawa of the progress that the Russian economy has made over the past two years. Chretien himself was quoted on the eve of his visit as saying that relations between the two countries had “never been better,” and a senior Canadian official said after arriving in Moscow that “It is time to register this message: Things in Russia have been improving a lot.”
Whether the visit proved as successful from a business standpoint as its participants had hoped is more difficult to say. On February 14, Putin appeared to jump the gun by saying that the two countries expected to sign a billion dollars in contracts the following day. In the event, however, reports said that the February 15 meeting between Chretien and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had resulted in the signing off more than seventy investment, trade and exchange deals, and that the total value of the agreements was in the US$200-$300 million range. If that figure was a disappointment, commentators said that the long-term value of the projects and follow-on contracts could indeed reach into the billions of dollars. The agreements signed on February 15 reportedly ranged from engineering, to oil and gas, to metals and mining, agriculture, construction and education.
Despite a proclamation by Putin and Chretien that the deal signings marked the opening of a new economic partnership between the two countries, however, the event was not without a dissonant note or two. The most important involved comments by a Canadian oil executive who accused Chretien of having taken a cavalier attitude toward problems faced by Canadian companies in the oil industry and of other Canadian firms which have had their investments seized by Russian companies. Putin, for his part, acknowledged that some Canadian politicians and business people were justified in expressing concerns about the safety of their investments in Russia, but to reassure the Canadian side he referred both to improvements in Russia’s business environment and to the fact that several Canadian companies have done quite well in Russia (Interfax, February 13; Moscow Times, February 14, 18; Globe and Mail, AP, February 15; Canadian Press, Strana.ru, February 17).
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