Tue. Sep 21st, 2021

Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko held a joint news conference at the Kremlin following Russian-Belarusian talks

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko, ladies and gentlemen,

We will briefly inform you about the results of our today’s work.

Our talks with the President of Belarus were intensive and constructive, as they have always been, which is fully in line with the nature of relations between our countries.

I have said this before but would like to repeat it today: Belarus, for us, is a good neighbour and our closest ally. Russian-Belarusian cooperation rests on the principles of mutual respect, support and consideration for each other’s interests. Close friendly ties between Russia and Belarus are buttressed by a common history and spiritual values and often by family relations.

The Republic is our main trade and economic partner in the CIS and was our third largest partner in the world in 2020, in this respect. This year, trade is once again on the rise and has already surpassed the pre-pandemic level. In January-June it amounted to $17.8 billion, recording growth of 34.9 percent, almost 35 percent.

Russia accounts for almost half of all of Belarus’ foreign trade. Russia has also made the biggest investment in the Belarusian economy.

So, it is no accident that during today’s talks we focused on trade and investment in our bilateral relations and on the issues linked with integration within the Union State framework.

As you know, over several years – we said today that we stepped up this work three or four years ago – our governments have been intensively working on a package of documents to further deepen integration between Russia and Belarus.

These are 28 so-called “union programmes” that are aimed at the unification of laws in Russia and Belarus in various economic areas, the levelling of conditions for the operation of the two countries’ economic entities, the formation of uniform financial and energy markets, transport infrastructure, the development and implementation of a common industrial and agricultural policy.

Today, I would like to say with satisfaction, that all 28 programmes have been agreed upon. Tomorrow, they are to be approved at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State in Minsk, after which they will be submitted for approval by the Supreme State Council of the Union State, which will convene before the end of this year. Mr Lukashenko and I have agreed on that, and we will now check our schedules and determine a more or less exact timeline.

Let me briefly go over the contents of these programmes.

Some of them seek to harmonise the taxation and customs legislation of our two countries. In particular, an agreement will be signed covering the general principles of levying indirect taxes. An integrated system for administering indirect taxes within the Union State will be put in place. The goal is to make the price structure of products clear.

Also, the general guidelines for forming a single monetary policy in the future, and implementing currency regulation, integrating national payment systems and creating a common payment space within the Union State have been outlined. All this will help ensure fair competition and boost business activity on the financial market, as well as effectively mitigate the risks of money laundering and the financing of criminal activities, including terrorism.

We have reached agreements on matters that are highly sensitive for the Belarusian side, which are related to prices for Russian energy. After lengthy discussions, we managed to come up with mutually acceptable approaches to gas supplies. The price for Russian natural gas for Belarus will remain at the current level in 2022.

A document to create a unified gas market within the Union State will be signed before December 1, 2023. In addition, we will conclude an agreement on merging the petroleum and petroleum product markets, as well as an agreement on a single electricity market.

I would like to emphasise the fact that common approaches to legislation covering labour relations, occupational safety and health, employment, social insurance and pensions, as well as support for families with children, will be developed within the framework of these union programmes as well.

Implementing the Union State programmes will be an important step towards creating a single economic space for our two countries, as provided for in the 1999 Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State.

Eventually, this will provide a strong impetus to the further growth of the two countries’ economies, will facilitate an increase in labour efficiency, serve the interests of large, mid-sized and small businesses and help create more jobs.

Russian and Belarusian businesses will be given the opportunity to expand their activities across the Union State, including by establishing new joint ventures and boosting their export potential.

Most importantly, the average person in the two countries will, hopefully, benefit from the integration. Russians and Belarusians will be given equal rights and equal opportunities in the economic and social spheres and, the most important thing, the necessary conditions will be put in place to ensure a real improvement in living standards and the wellbeing of the people.

Today, we also discussed matters related to building a single defence space and ensuring the security of the Union Sate along its borders.

In this context, we gave much attention, as we attach great importance to this, to upcoming joint military exercises, Zapad 2021, to be held in Russia and Belarus. These exercises are not targeting anyone. However, conducting these exercises is logical, given that other alliances, for example, NATO, are moving fast to build their military presence close to the borders of the Union State and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation countries.

Mr Lukashenko talked about the political situation in the Republic of Belarus, which has stabilised.

In conclusion, returning to the main topic of today’s talks, I want to note that the development of equitable and mutually beneficial cooperation in the Union State has remained an explicit strategic priority for our two countries.

I want to thank the governments, ministries and teams of experts of the two countries who took part in developing and coordinating the Union State programmes. Thanks to you – I am now addressing our colleagues – and your well-coordinated and painstaking work, we have managed to achieve very impressive results on the path to integration. We believe – I am again addressing my colleagues in the government – that you will continue to proceed like this in the future.

Thank you for your attention.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, media representatives,

According to traditions and protocol, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague, the President of Russia, for the warm welcome that our delegation has been given today, as well as the extremely honest, open and constructive nature of today’s meeting.

Among other things, all of you, journalists, finally have an opportunity to hear firsthand about the results of our meeting today. We must frankly admit that we have not often indulged you with such meetings after our long negotiations.

I would like to start with the biggest and perhaps the most popular topic of today’s conversation. Everyone is interested in the future of the union programmes. Taking into account what the President of Russia has just said, I will just try to add a few things. But I must apologise because I have to start with the history of this matter.

The President has just mentioned that this work begun more than three years ago now, and we have been duly reacting to all the feedback, concerns and criticism voiced in both Russia and Belarus, about the Union State having lost some of its dynamics.

As I said, substantive work on the so-called roadmaps, as you remember, began more than three years ago. Those roadmaps, in fact, provided integration frameworks for specific areas, that is, the roadmaps indicated in broad strokes the path that we were ready to take with regard to a specific topic of interstate relations. That is, we outlined our plans.

Each of today’s programmes – they actually evolved into programmes about 18 months ago, when we approached specific agreements because we thought that we had enough framework plans and needed more specific ones to respond to our people’s requests, and so – each of the programmes is a specific plan of actions we are going to implement. The governments have done a tremendous job. Mr Putin and I have made all the fundamental decisions today that concerned us.

I do not want to go into the contents of the documents we have reviewed. They are not classified and will be made public. But I will just mention a few of the main points. They include equal rights for businesses of both countries, Belarus and Russia, the importance of which various representatives of Belarus, including me as the president, have been stressing for many years now. That is the basics. We are equal partners. The competition must be honest for all companies on the Belarusian and Russian markets. It was the equality, beneficial and fruitful cooperation that the Belarusian‒Russian integration was started for in the first place.

The union programmes clearly describe development mechanisms for our shared economic space, for building integrated sector-specific markets and for implementing harmonised policies in finances, taxes, lending, pricing and trade.

I would like to specifically point out such matters as solving the problem of energy supply to Belarus, the increase in transportation services, funding for new investment projects, adopting common approaches to implementing our agricultural and industrial policies, and raising the level of mutual social guarantees for our citizens. President Putin has just covered these topics extensively.

Yet, it is high time we asked our critics in Belarus – specifically, in Belarus – the so-called opposition, both fugitives and those living in Belarus, who criticised me and the government and shouted so loud. I would like to ask the critics of our integration in Russia as well: where do you see a ball chained to Russia’s legs? There are no downsides for either Belarusians or Russians in these programmes – and there could not be. As President Putin mentioned, the aim of all these measures is to improve the welfare of our peoples. And it is probably time to put a lid on this matter. Our integration was coined to be mutually beneficial and nothing else.

It is fundamentally important that we have managed to achieve mutual understanding on all major aspects. Our governments will immediately start polishing certain points – tomorrow, during a meeting of the Union State’s Council of Ministers in Minsk. If the final touches are approved and agreed upon (and we are certain they will be), we will be ready to approve the package of union programmes, as President Putin said, during a meeting of the Supreme State Council. We will try to set a date for this meeting today.

We often hear accusations that the Union State is a purely political project. No, it is a unique integration framework that is advanced in many spheres, including politics. Take our military and political union. It is not a secret. We have advanced quite substantially in many fields, such as foreign policy, defence and security.

I would like to stress: life is convincingly proving that everything we do is for the benefit of our people and is aimed to meet their concrete needs. The Belarusians and the Russians do not feel they are aliens in either country: they have freedom of movement and they can get an education and [easily] find a job. This stands high. Moreover, people are confident that it is a matter of course, that it has always been this way. And this is the best proof of the viability of our union. I am absolutely certain that broadening integration and building up multi-faceted collaboration is the most indicative and effective reply to all our ill-wishers. Together we can only get stronger.

At the start of our talks, the President of Russia mentioned a very important and interesting phrase: We are emerging from the situation of a pandemic-crazy world, where production volumes and many other processes have sunk to nought over this period of time. We have to look for additional stimuli to promote the socioeconomic development of our countries. He said this and it is bang on to the point. We are looking for these advantages in the union of our two countries in order to overcome the negative consequences of the pandemic.

Today, we have also discussed in detail some current international problems and our relations with neighbouring countries and assiciations. We have dwelled on the situation in zones of instability, primarily in Afghanistan, from the point of view of threats to security of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. The priority in this context is to ensure comprehensive security of our countries and the CSTO as a whole. We will jointly approve a common position on this matter during the upcoming events in Dushanbe.

Even we, though located in the centre of Europe far from the so-called theatre of operations, felt the impacts of the Afghan crisis. Look at the refugee crisis on our borders, at how the progressive West is behaving: they are rattling the saber all the time. As is only natural, we have broached the subject of our allied military exercise, Zapad-2021. We will continue to build up our joint counteraction to common challenges and threats. There is no need to scream out loud that we are holding this exercise. We have an army, we have a joint force deployed in the Western sector, and it needs to be trained and instructed in military tactics. We are doing nothing that wouldn’t be done by our rivals and adversaries.

We have also focused on further normalisation of transport communications and cooperation in the field of microelectronics and building industry. Yes, we are confident that the Union State should expand the use of its scientific and technological potential.

It is clear that far from all the knots in our relations have been untied. But it is normal, given the existing scale of collaboration, and a platform for further progress has been created. Based on this platform, we will continue to ensure social guarantees and consistently enhance the wellbeing of Belarusians and Russians.