Working visit to Russia. Talks with Vladimir Putin

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Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 9 September.

For the past few years, Belarus and Russia have been working on the Union State programs to deepen the integration in the Union State format. They were worked out at the expert and government levels. They were discussed during meetings between the heads of the two states.

"What we hope to agree on today is not connected with any current political trends in our countries or with the political calendar in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Russia. This is our current, long-standing joint work of many years," Vladimir Putin stressed.
Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that the adoption of union programs will be a breakthrough.

“I think we will work well. We may have less work left to do than during our previous meetings. Those lasted for a very long time. As long as five hours and even eight hours. Because back then we had to work like bulldozers in order to clear the road for the governments and experts. They did their part but they stumbled all the time over the problems they couldn’t resolve or decide on,” the Belarusian leader noted.

He recalled how everything had begun in Sochi. Back then upon demands of the nations and in response to criticism about the lack of dynamics in the Union State of Belarus and Russia the two leaders sketched out over 30 roadmaps. “In broad strokes. While working on these roadmaps later on, we came to a conclusion (more than a year ago) that we need concrete plans instead of some schemes and we switched to Union State programs. As a result today we are ready to discuss 28 programs in the last stage. It is a lot. Those focus on the main major topics and directions of our cooperation in order to allow the governments tomorrow to once again discuss them at the expert level and the government level [at a session of the Union State Council of Ministers]. If they approve these documents, then we may finally adopt these programs at a session of the Supreme State Council as you and I agreed (maybe in late October),” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“It will be a breakthrough. A breakthrough in many spheres. It is no secret. We will publish these programs. We will show on what directions we’ve been working on,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

“We progress just like all the civilized countries. Only together, only as part of the union. Kindred countries. Close peoples. Virtually one nation, with Russians and Belarusians stemming from one root. We do our work while they [citizens of the two countries] may evaluate us,” the Belarusian President added.

Negotiations of Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin continued in the Kremlin in the format of working dinner and were followed by a press conference for representatives of mass media.

Talking to journalists, the Belarusian President described the negotiations with Vladimir Putin as honest, open, and constructive.

“First of all, I’d like to thank my colleague, the President of Russia for the reception our delegation enjoyed and for the extremely honest, open, and constructive nature of our today’s meeting,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

Speaking about results of negotiations, the head of state talked about results of the work on Union State programs first. In his words, it was the largest part and possibly the most hyped-up topic of today’s conversation. Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that focused work on the so-called roadmaps had begun three years before. They had decided to start working them out after the society criticized the Union State of Belarus and Russia for losing the development pace. Back then these documents represented kind of integration sketches of individual areas. Each of today’s programs is a concrete plan of actions the countries intend to implement.

“The governments have done a colossal amount of work. Today Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] and I made all the key decisions that affected us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Without having to retell the content of the documents we’ve discussed (they will be published, it is no secret), I will identify the key things in them such as equal rights for Belarusian and Russian commercial entities. Those equal conditions various representatives of Belarus have talked about for many years, including me as the President. It is the underlying foundation. We are equal partners,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated.

The head of state stressed that fair competition is a must for all the companies on the markets of Belarus and Russia. “It is for the sake of equality, profitable manufacturing cooperation, fruitful cooperation that Belarusian-Russian integration has been launched,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out. “The Union State programs clearly stipulate mechanisms for developing the common economic space: the formation of joint sectoral markets, the realization of a harmonized financial policy, tax policy, credit policy, price policy, and trade policy.”

According to the President, the Union State programs also offer a solution to the problem of deliveries of energy resources to Belarus. They envisage an increase in the volume of transport services, the financing of new investment projects, the implementation of common principles of realization of the agrarian policy and the industrial policy, the increase in the level of mutual social safeguards for Belarusian and Russian citizens.

Aleksandr Lukashenko asked Belarusian critics of the Union State of Belarus and Russia: what is bad for Belarusians in the decisions that have been made? “I’d like critics of our integration in Russia to tell me where they see a weight tied to the legs of the Russian Federation. There is nothing bad and there could be nothing bad for the peoples of Belarus and Russia in these programs. Everything was geared towards raising living standards of our nations. It is probably time to close the chapter on these talks. Our integration is purely about mutual benefits,” he stated.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that during the negotiations they had managed to reach mutual understanding on all the key areas. Without delay the governments of Belarus and Russia will get down to polishing some things at a session of the Union State Council of Ministers in Minsk on 10 September.

“If the last strokes are approved and reconciled (and we are sure they will be), we are ready to approve the package of Union State programs at a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State,” Aleksandr Lukashenko summarized.

“Our accusers often say that the Union State is a purely political project. No, it is a unique integration association that is advanced in all the aspects, including politics if you look at our military political union. I emphasize: life convincingly proves that everything we do is geared towards the good and concrete needs of our people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The President noted that Belarusians and Russians do not feel strangers in both countries, they can freely travel, get education, and get jobs. “It means a lot. Besides, people are convinced it is only natural, that it has always been like that. It is the best proof of the viability of our union. I am absolutely convinced that deeper integration, an increase in multifaceted interaction is the most indicative and effective answer to all our ill-wishers. Together we are only stronger,” he stressed.

Apart from tighter Belarus-Russia integration Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin discussed in detail the current international problems, relations with neighboring countries and associations. The presidents spoke at length about the situation in instability zones, primarily in Afghanistan, from the point of view of threats to the security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.

“In this context it is of primary importance to ensure all-round security of our countries and the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a whole. All of us will approve a common stance on the problem together during forthcoming events in Dushanbe [summits of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization]. Even Belarus feels consequences of the Afghan crisis although the country is in the center of Europe and far from the theater of war. Look at what is happening to refugees at our borders. Look at what ‘progressive’ West does. Moreover, they constantly rattle their sabers,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

In this context Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin touched upon the Belarusian-Russian strategic army exercise Zapad 2021. ”We will only increase the joint counteraction of common challenges and threats,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. “Don’t shout about our organization of this exercise. We have an army, a joint battle group in the western direction. It has to be trained in the arts of war. We do nothing extraordinary.”

According to the head of state, the meeting also touched upon matters concerning further normalization of transport communication, manufacturing cooperation in the area of microelectronics and in civil engineering.

“Yes, we are convinced it is necessary to expand the practice of using the R&D and manufacturing potential in the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

“It is understandable that not all the knots in our relations have been untied yet. It is normal considering such volume of interaction 

Yet Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that a platform for further progress had been created. “Thanks to this we will continue securing social safeguards and incrementally raising the welfare of Belarusians and Russians,” he stated.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that it may seem to many people that the realization of the Union State programs Belarus and Russia have designed takes too much time. According to the head of state, there is no other way to do it since it is necessary to carefully approach these matters.

“We set an example of how things should be done in the Eurasian Economic Union and all the more so in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Like a bulldozer we lead the way and clear up space for union associations in the post-Soviet space. The union is an example, the way those countries, which are intent on a tighter union, will have to follow,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated.

Aleksandr Lukashenko also answered reporters’ questions about the implementation of the provisions of the Union State Treaty, the resolution of pending issues in bilateral cooperation, the migration crisis, air transportation between the two countries, prices for Russian energy resources exported to Belarus, credit support, and the possibility of the introduction of the single currency in the Union State.

“We’ve agreed to pursue a common macroeconomic policy, harmonize the monetary management policy, and integrate the payment systems. We’ve agreed on ensuring information security, stepping up cooperation in customs and taxation. I am talking about the transparent customs value of products and about determining the transparent structure of the cost of goods in economy on the whole,” Vladimir Putin said.

At the meeting with journalists it was mentioned that Russia will lift all coronavirus-related restrictions in passenger air transportation with Belarus. The Russian leader explained that this topic was not discussed during the talks, but the commission of the Russian government has made a corresponding decision recently.

Vladimir Putin remarked that as a result of the talks they had managed to come up with mutually acceptable approaches to natural gas matters. The price Belarus will pay for Russian natural gas in 2022 will remain at this year’s level. A document will be signed by 1 December 2023 on creating the common natural gas market within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.

Apart from that, in his words, an agreement will be signed on combining the markets of oil and oil products and an agreement on the common market of electricity.

The Belarusian head of state also commented on Russia’s credit support: “As for credit support… Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] once again failed to mention but I have to admit that I’d told him we don’t need new loans if we could take some from the nuclear power plant project, for which we’ve been granted a certain loan (it is Russia’s practice all over the world). If we save something, I asked him to give us the money we’ve saved as a loan. The answer was: we will think about it, it suits us if there are good, profitable projects for Belarus and Russia.”

At the meeting with journalists Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin also opined on the introduction of the single currency in the Union State. According to the Belarusian leader, it is too early for Belarus and Russia to switch to a single currency.

“Putin or Lukashenko slowing down these processes is not the issue. When we examined this problem, the Central Bank of Russia and the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus unanimously asked us to leave it be. They said that neither the central banks nor our countries were ready for it,” the Belarusian head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko did not rule out the possibility that Belarus and Russia may return to this matter in the future. “Currency is not a problem. We’ve always stumbled over the matter of the single emission center. There are certain problems with it,” he explained.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin also believes the two countries are not ready to switch to one currency for now. In his words, Union State programs provide steps for a gradual resolution of these problems. “We have to move very carefully. We have to analyze pros and cons, positive and negative examples of our neighbors,” Vladimir Putin summarized.

Talking to journalists after the talks in Moscow, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Belarus honors all its commitments to partners but it cannot ensure the border security of the European Union due to the sanctions.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “What do you want from us? You introduce more and more sanctions against us every day. We are already way ahead of the Russian Federation on sanctions. They’ve introduced so many sanctions within literally six months. Do I and the Belarusian people have to protect them at the border? No.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that the European Union had curtailed all the programs within the framework of the Belarus-EU agreement on readmission. “Reap the fruits of your policy now,” he added. “Look at their ‘democratic’ face: they shoot at, hound these migrants with dogs, organize groups and herd them across the border to Belarus while shooting above their heads, thank god, for now. Although some have died. They throw the bodies across the border to Belarus for us to take them. That’s their ‘democratic’ face. We honestly fulfilled our mission until they resorted to force to turn the country upside down and bring down the government.”

The head of state remarked that as the USA pulled out its troops from Afghanistan, it ordered the European Union to accommodate all the Afghan refugees. According to the President, the European Union said they would comply with the order and would take in the Afghans. “If you tell them to come to you, then take them in regardless of wherever they come from. Why do you have to complain about Belarusians or Russia?” he wondered.

“We will always do what a reliable partner has to do. If Europe wants normal relations, okay, we are ready to negotiate tomorrow,” Aleksandr Lukashenko summed it up.

Answering the question of a Belarusian reporter, Vladimir Putin remarked that some Western colleagues of his and European leaders had invited him to work together to resolve problems with migrants at the Belarusian border and had wanted him to somehow influence the situation.

“The answer is simple: it does not concern us. It is not our border,” he noted. He stressed that the migration crisis had emerged at the Belarusian border with other sovereign countries, this is why these countries should find solutions to problems on their own. “If they want to truly resolve the problem, they should contact Belarusian authorities at any level and resolve the problem together with the neighboring country,” the Russian leader stressed.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko thanked his Russian counterpart for his stance on the migration crisis. "The European Union and other parties are trying to resolve this problem, including by filing some complaints with Russia’s leadership, including my colleague. They say Russia should put pressure on Lukashenko and so on… I am grateful to him for his stance that he expresses everywhere: Belarus has a government, they should contact the government and resolve this problem. You see they don’t want to talk us because either the President is ‘illegitimate’ or the government is a wrong kind. But things are different with Talibs. They can talk to Talibs and have a dialogue with them,“ Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out.

Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that in the course of building the Union State of Belarus and Russia they had always kept in mind the example of the European Union but the European Union is not a good example today. “There are multiple trends over there already that will lead to collapse. They already openly criticize each other. We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” he stressed. Aleksandr Lukashenko also remarked that Belarus and Russia want to avoid the USSR’s mistakes. “We are making certain conclusions,” he added.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin remarked that Belarus and Russia do not intend to implement key provisions of the Union State Foundation Treaty as fast as possible. The countries have created the economic base of their relations for now, all the rest is a political superstructure, he noted.

During the meeting with journalists Aleksandr Lukashenko made a few comments about leaks that claim Belarus will be merged with Russia: “The President of Russia delicately did not mention various speculations about mergers and takeovers and so on. I should say that the President of Russia and I did not succumb to this disease. If someone did, we can fix them.”

At the same time Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the leadership of both countries will take steps purely in the interests of the nations. If Belarus and Russia need tighter relations, it will be done right away as soon as citizens request it, the President stated.