Vladimir von Witte

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS OF BARON VON WITTE

In the 1960’s relations between East and West were strained. The cold war made direct contacts between people and organizations from the opposing sides virtually impossible and “go-betweens” were often used to make initial contacts and mediate. Mr Vladimir von Witte, being a citizen of a neutral country, Finland, but also fluent in Russian due to his emigrant background was an ideal man “to do the job” when behind the curtain contacts were needed.

FINNAIR FLIGHT PERMITS TO MÜNICH

The Finnish airline Finnair’s General Director Gunnar Korhonen and President Urho Kekkonen of Finland had a shared desire to obtain flight permissions to Münich in 1986. The greatest obstacle in the negotiations was Federal Chancellor Franz Joseph Strauss of Bavaria, also the Chairman of Lufthansa’s (the German airline) Board of Directors, who did not want to share the profits from this route. The USSR government was also aware of the negotiations.

Mr. von Witte, then a Head of Department at Matkayhtymä travel agency, received a telephone call from Mr. Tittman, a representative of GWKA a German export-import company.. Mr. Tittman had good relations to both the German and the Russian governments and hinted to Mr. von Witte that there was a way of obtaining the flight permits for the Finns. Mr. Tittman was aware that Mr. von Witte was very appreciated by the Russians who had intentions to reward him for his determined work in developing trade relations between Finland and the USSR.

Mr von Witte was thus invited to the German government’s Christmas party in 1986 hosted by Federal Chancellor Strauss. Also present at the party as the representative of the USSR was Mr. Victor Louise. The party was a success with “go-betweens” like Mr. von Witte from neutral nations acting as links between the representatives of the opposing sides. Amid the festivities serious business was also taken care of. Federal Chancellor Strauss received a positive reply from the Soviets to his wish of making a state visit to the USSR and landing the plane himself into Moscow airport. Taking advantage of Mr. Strauss’s good humor Mr. von Witte enquired about the flight permits to Münich and was told that they would be granted (in March 1987). Mission “Flightpermits to Münich” accomplished.

CAVIAR TO USA

Mr. von Witte was contacted by the legendary Time Magazine editor Mr. Edmund Stevens who had been a representative of his paper in Moscow as early as 1935. Mr. Stevens told Mr. von Witte that he had heard of the other’s good relations with the USSR and wanted to use these to import some caviar to the U.S.A. Mr. von Witte was flattered but said that no “go-between” would be needed as it was only a matter of money. But hearing the amount of caviar, the black gold of Siberia, that the American wished to purchase he understood the need of a mediator – a thousand kilos was a gigantic amount that would not be found easily, especially to an American.

Mr. von Witte promised to help. Such a huge amount could not be bought in Moscow but the Lenfintorg – an organization created for the across border trade between the USSR and Finland – just might be able to supply it and the deal would also be very profitable for Finnair, Mr. von Witte’s employer, as the freight charge for caviar was three hundred times the normal freight charge.

Mr. von Witte flew to Leningrad for a friendly visit to the Lenfintorg. He began by praising the good trade relations between the two countries and then asked to buy a thousand kilos of black caviar. The request caused great confusion at Lenfintorg and an internal meeting was called to discuss the deal that would require the whole annual Lenfintorg quota of caviar received from the USSR government. Supply and prices were fixed – Mr. von Witte had a cheque in American Dollars signed by Mr. Stevens and could thus close the deal immediately. Eventually agreement was reached and the 80 000 Dollar cheque handed over to the Lenfintorg. The caviar was delivered and flown from Leningrad to New York via Helsinki. Mission Caviar to the U.S. accomplished.

GOLD TO GREAT BRITAIN

The USSR government and General Secretary of the Politybyro, Mr. Nikita Hrutsev wanted to raise the value of the Soviet Ruble to an international level. Ruble was a “closed” currency - thus not freely traded – and its value was low. Prime Minister Andrei Kosygin suggested that the Ruble be tied to the USSR’s gold reserves to improve its worth. This proposition was accepted and as a consequence at least a ton and a half of gold was decided to be sent to the central bank in London, England. This operation was probably designed by the KGB, the Soviet secret police, and reported directly to General Secretary Hrutsev – the head of USSR. The plan was to use the help of a neutral and friendly neighbouring country Finland and its airline Finnair.

In Helsinki, Mr. von Witte was called to Station Manager Vuorimaa’s at Finnair to hear the details of the plan and receive instructions. Mr. von Witte would be personally responsible for the successful transfer of the gold from behind the iron curtain in Moscow to Helsinki from where it would continue to London. Whether by deliberate choice or chance, but curious none the less, the person selected for this mission was a relative of Count Sergei Witte, the Prime Minister of Russia almost a century before, who placed Russia on the gold standard and made the Ruble a convertible currency for the first time in the Russian history.

Mr. von Witte accepted the task, made the arrangements and was present when the bullion was loaded into the Finnair plane. The gold was driven to the airport in an armored van. It was packed in wooden boxes of 57 kg each. Because of the weight restrictions Mr. von Witte decided that half of the gold would be flown out on the first flight and the second batch on the next regular flight to Helsinki.

The loading of the boxes was closely followed by armed guards. Being nervous, one of the loaders lost his hold of a box. It fell on the ground and broke revealing its valuable contents. A commotion followed – the loaders were mesmerized by what they saw and the guards raised their weapons ready to shoot. Mr. von Witte managed to calm the situation and loading continued. The damaged box would be fixed and follow on the second flight. Once the gold was on board, the passengers were checked in and the plane left for Helsinki, Finland. Looking out from the aeroplane window Mr. von Witte could see that a MIG-17 fighter plane followed their flight and did not turn back until they crossed into Finnish airspace. Four days later Mr. von Witte personally supervised the loading of the remaining gold bullion. Once at Helsinki airport, he handed over to the person selected for the second part of the gold’s journey to London. Operations “Gold to UK” successfully accomplished.

SIBERIAN RAILROAD

Back in the 1970’s the the government of the Soviet Union inquired if I would be interested in representing and marketing the Trans-Siberian railroad. They were well aware of my relevance as the man behind this project had originally been Finance Minister Sergei Witte. The person who delivered me this request was a Russian born Viktor Louise, a journalist representing a British newspaper in the USSR but also an active messanger of the Soviet government.

At that time my life was far too busy to consider such an undertaking, however interesting, but lately my thoughts have revisited those conversations more and more frequently especially after the difficulties caused to the international air traffic by the volcanic ash from Iceland. In my opinion, alternative means and routes of transporting people and goods should be developed to ensure that such an event would not cause as much havoc globally as it did in Spring 2010.

Imagine a state-of-the-art Trans-Siberian railroad. In my vision the railroad would begin in Central Europe, for example Berlin, run via Moscow and across Siberia to the Far East. The comfortable passenger trains would offer the occasional traveler an unforgettable experience of beautiful scenery and those travelling on business a chance to acquaint themselves with the vast market potential of Siberia.

The original Trans-Siberian railroad was built from Moscow to Vladivostok in the 1880’s and was the first land connection between Europe and Asia. Finance Minister Witte’s aim was to connect these continents with a continuous railway network to further trade between them. The West would provide the East with technology and raw materials would flow the other way to the fast growing industrial economies of the West.

Finance Minister Witte believed that trade could only be promoted through cooperation and building bridges between nations. I share his view and am convinced that my vast experience in international business and PR skills would an asset to creating a cooperation and collaboration towards developing the Trans-Siberian railroad to its full potential.

Vladimir von Witte

Born 13.06.1935 in Vyborg

Vyborg belonged during those days to Finland but was lost during the Second World War to former Soviet Union, today's Russia

1945-1954 Went to Swedish-speaking school in Helsinki
1958 Joined Finnair
1958-1959 Officer at Helsinki Airport
1959-1965 Radio and telephone operator in Finnair's Aircrafts Operating to Leningrad and Moscow
1965-1968 Station Manager at Moscow Airport
1968-1970 District Manager in Leningrad - Opening of Finnair Town Office in Leningrad
1970-1978 General Manager in Moscow
1978-1980 Director of Sales at Hotel Intercontinental in Helsinki
1980-1984 General Manager of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria
1984-1985 Product Manager in Head Office
1985-1991 Director of Eastern European countries in travel agency United Travel
1992-1994 District Manager of Finnair in St.Petersburg
1994-1999 General Manager of Finnair in Moscow

Associations:

Established PPL year 2003 by Vladimir von Witte
Chairman of the board 2003-2008 Chairman of the board 2006-2007
The Finland and Jordan Association

Father - Baltic German and mother - Russian-Finnish
Speaking in Finnish, Swedish, Russian, English and German
Married with three daughters