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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Leaders Open Wastewater Plant

Itar-TassPersson, left, Halonen and Putin attending the opening Thursday of a wastewater treatment plant in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The leaders of Sweden and Finland joined President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant in St. Petersburg in the latest effort to cut back on the copious pollutants flowing into the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea.

The 174 million euro ($213 million) Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant is to treat up to 85 percent of St. Petersburg's effluent using ultraviolet light.

Putin pledged further cooperation in large international environmental projects after St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko ceremonially turned on the sluices at the facility.

"We have made an important step in improving the life of people living in St. Petersburg and the Baltic region," he said, pointing out that the city and the surrounding Leningrad region is home to 50 million people.

"The result of this work demonstrates that we can be very efficient in our common work," Putin said.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen said the Baltic Sea had always connected people in the region.

"It is natural that our concern for the Baltic, too, is common. The coastal states have cooperated for decades in order to improve the condition of the Baltic, and great advances have been made," Halonen said, calling the treatment plant one of those advances.

"The success we feel today should also serve as a strong incentive to continue environmental work. The Baltic Sea is still very polluted," Halonen said.

Authorities say the project, which also includes a facility for burning solid waste left over from the treatment, should significantly cut back on phosphorus, nitrogen and other organic pollutants that clog the Gulf of Finland and leach into the wider Baltic Sea. Construction of the plant started in 1987 but was halted eight years later due to financing problems.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Nordic Investment Bank were among the chief creditors for the project, more than half of whose financing is coming from loans.

Environmental groups say some fish caught in the Baltic Sea exceeds European Union limits on toxins. The sea is highly sensitive to pollution, since there is little exchange of water with the Atlantic. Much harm was done to the sea during the last few years, with reserves of codfish becoming depleted and many beaches becoming unusable, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said.

"We must solve the major environmental problems in our region. We owe this to our children and grandchildren," he said.

The three leaders were later expected to discuss Russian-European Union relations, a Kremlin official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russia's economic ties with the EU are vibrant, with the bloc accounting for half of Russia's trade, but relations are frequently strained by EU criticism of Russia's human rights record and prickly bilateral ties among the new EU members that border Russia. Russia is also a major energy supplier for Europe.

The three leaders were also to discuss efforts to reform the United Nations and the Security Council, the official said.

Earlier, Halonen attended opening ceremonies for a 52 million euro Nokian Renkaat tire-manufacturing plant near St. Petersburg.

 Before visiting the wastewater plant, Putin unveiled a musical water fountain at St. Petersburg's Finlandsky Station. Saying he had no change, Putin asked the crowd for a coin to throw into the fountain for luck. A smiling man stepped forward and gave him a coin.

Putin threw it, thanked the man and shook his hand. Other onlookers also offered Putin coins and he tossed those into the water too, Channel One television reported.