President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko,
I am happy to see you. There are many events.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Very many.
Vladimir Putin: Life is taking its course, but there are fundamental things that concern our bilateral relations. We also have things to discuss in a multilateral format.
To begin with, despite the pressing issues that we are bound to discuss today, I would like to note that our relations are making steady headway. Last time we agreed that despite the pandemic and a certain reduction in trade, it is still substantial, almost $30 billion, $29.5 billion to be more exact. I know that we will restore all of it. There is every opportunity for this.
Our teams continue to upgrade the legislation on building the Union State. Indeed, there is still a lot to do in this area, but much has already been done, especially in the social sphere. Our citizens enjoy equal rights in the social area: pension support, social issues, employment and healthcare. We have already achieved quite a bit. There are other issues on which we must come to terms and coordinate our positions. This is generally going well. Our teams are doing a good job. I am referring to both the Government and Administration teams and now to a special services team.
We are deepening our military-technical cooperation and expanding our cooperation in security in the broadest sense of this word.
I am very happy to see you. Welcome.
Alexander Lukashenko: Thank you, Mr Putin, for the invitation.
First, I would like to congratulate you on the end of yet another presidential period that I would describe as very difficult and critical. The annual Presidential Address is always a big job. You will agree that many people are involved in it. However, the President still bears the brunt of the burden: he must decide what this Address will include. We noted a big human touch in this Address.
I wholeheartedly agree with the conclusions made in the Address and particularly support your emphasis on people. The problems are the same; they concern the population. As they used to say before, our people are emancipated, very advanced. We do not always have what we want, so we must focus on the birth rate, and I will repeat this again and again.
We provide our people with similar support, especially families with many children. This is a priority in our country. This is why we approve of this.
At the end of last year you and I mapped out a programme for our presidential activities for the end of 2020 and for 2021. As you said, we met in Sochi twice and discussed various problems, not only current issues but also strategic goals. Last time, we agreed that our governments would do a serious job in Minsk.
Thank you. Mr Mishustin arrived and spoke as an academician. He is doing great. He did an excellent job there. He spoke about the economy, finance, taxation and the tax administration and the effectiveness of the taxation system. I will tell you about all this later. We came to a certain common conclusion. And, you and I also agreed that after studying these issues we would meet today and discuss them again. In June we will hold a forum of regions in the Moscow Region, and later we will decide on a meeting of the Supreme State Council in autumn, where we will be able to formalise our agreements by signing certain documents.
In general, we are making good progress on union programmes. Do you remember how we started with maps? Very serious programmes. Probably, we have coordinated 26 or 27 programmes at the government level. There are a few left – two or three very serious economic programmes, including taxation. We made a decision in Minsk on this well-known programme. So, I agree with you, we are moving forward bit by bit.
However, some pressing issues must be resolved, including security and defence in our Union State, although we are probably doing okay for now. I would rather put it correctly: we will deal with this. We will draw a line that nobody will be allowed to cross, and we will respond appropriately to those who do not understand that we must be calm and live in harmony in this hectic world.
Remark: Mr President, may I ask you and President Lukashenko just a few questions? With your permission.
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead, please.
Question: The day before yesterday President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky offered to meet with you any place in Donbass. What will your response be? How will you reply?
If I may, a question for Mr Lukashenko as well. Ukraine refused, let’s put it that way, to work in the Minsk venue in the Trilateral Group. What do you think about this?
Vladimir Putin: As for the proposal of the Ukrainian leadership and President Zelensky, I would like to say the following.
As of late, the current Ukrainian leadership took many steps that are destroying Russian-Ukrainian relations. This applies directly to a number of problems in bilateral relations. It includes their attitude towards the Russian Orthodox Church and attempts to destroy it. This applies to their attitude towards the Russian language and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine and Russian citizens living in Ukraine. Many steps have been taken to destroy our relations, which we can only regret.
However, if President Zelensky wants to start restoring these relations, we will only welcome this. A question suggests itself: what would we discuss at this meeting? If the discussion concerns the problems of Donbass, the Ukrainian leaders must, first of all, meet with the heads of the republics – the LPR and the DPR, and then review the problems with representatives of third countries, that is, Russia in this case. This is the first point.
Now the second point – if the matter concerns the development of bilateral relations, this is fine, we will receive the President of Ukraine in Moscow anytime at his convenience.
Alexander Lukashenko: If they want to talk to Donbass, they can [meet] in Donbass. Let them meet, right? That is their business.
Vladimir Putin: They should meet there first.
Alexander Lukashenko: This is what I’m saying – he should meet with them there, in Donbass.
Vladimir Putin: [He should] meet with them – the two leaders of these two republics, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik. I believe this is the first thing to be done. Then these issues can be discussed with third parties, Russia included.
Alexander Lukashenko: It seems to me it is high time for Vladimir Zelensky to learn, among other things, the code of diplomatic manners. So much for Donbass.
As for the Tripartite Contact Group in Belarus, Mr Putin, Mr Poroshenko – everyone who was there at the time, approached me, asking to organise [a meeting]. I said: “Agreed.” If they do not like it anymore, well, they can choose another country, but it is important to keep in mind that those people who proposed [Minsk as a venue for the talks] back then should reach a consensus on this matter. If Mr Putin, Mr Zelensky and other officials involved in tackling this issue agree on this, the group, of course, can work elsewhere. We have a saying: good riddance to bad rubbish. So after all we are not taking these statements very much to heart. You might have missed their statement, which they later refuted, that the President allegedly refused to even discuss this issue. This is nonsense. Is there anything to be discussed?
Vladimir Putin: Belarus just provided the venue and is in no way interfering with this process.
Alexander Lukashenko: Absolutely.
Vladimir Putin: In no way. Belarus just created working conditions for those who want to seek solutions to the problem. If someone is unwilling to do this, then of course, reasons can always be found to not work in this very important, in my opinion, area. There seems to be a search for reasons exactly like this to avoid discussing the Donbass issue.
Alexander Lukashenko: And to discard the Minsk Agreements in so doing.
Vladimir Putin: Discard them altogether.