The theme of the plenary session is Scientific and Technological Cooperation Between Russia and Belarus in the Era of Digitalisation. The forum participants include the leadership of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, the governments of both countries, and the Standing Committee of the Union State, as well as heads of the Russian Federation constituent entities and regions of the Republic of Belarus.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko, friends, colleagues,
I am delighted to welcome all the participants of the regular, 8th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions. Due to objective and understandable reasons and circumstances connected with the epidemiological situation, we are holding the forum via videoconference, just like last year. However, it is notable that such meetings between representatives of regional and local governments, business communities and workers of education, science and culture of our two countries are held regularly. This is important. It is an opportunity to discuss the current topics of Russian-Belarusian interaction in politics, the economy and the humanitarian sphere and also to coordinate joint projects between the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and the regions of the Republic of Belarus.
The forum’s co-chair, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko has already reported on your achievements during the past two days, the discussions you held and decisions you adopted, as well as your cooperation plans. I believe that all of this is very important for the further development of interregional ties, which are a key component of the entire Russian-Belarusian strategic partnership.
I would like to emphasise once again that Belarus is not just a good neighbour but first of all our closest ally. Our relations are based on the principles of mutual respect, support and a balance of each other’s interests. Close friendly ties between the people of Russia and Belarus rest on a common history and common spiritual values, and often on family ties as well.
Quite recently, we paid tribute to the defenders of the Fatherland and their unforgettable courage on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. I am well aware that large-scale commemorative events were held this year in Brest Fortress, which was one of the first to stand up against the aggressor.
I have no doubt that such issues as preserving the memory of the crucial events in our common past, preventing any attempts to falsify history, patriotic education of the younger generation must always remain in the focus of our attention.
Being the descendants of the generation of victors is not just a great honour, but also a huge responsibility for preserving the traditions of our combat brotherhood and mutual assistance, which were forged during the harsh wartime years. This is why we will continue providing all-round assistance to the fraternal Belarusian people in these far from easy domestic political circumstances in Belarus, amid the continued political and sanctions pressure and the stubborn attempts of external forces to stir up the situation.
We are supporting and will continue supporting our Belarusian friends in their resistance to the sanctions restrictions, which the European Union has recently imposed. We believe that the ban on the delivery of some Belarusian products to EU countries is damaging the interests of businesses and ordinary people – this is what those who adopt these decisions should have thought about – the interest of ordinary people, including in European countries themselves.
However, Russia is resolved to continue working consistently to develop its multifaceted ties with the Republic of Belarus and to build our common Union State. On a larger scale, we are building up integration processes in Eurasia and we will be doing this, in particular, within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
I would just like to remind you that on April 2, 2021, we marked 25 years since the signing of the Treaty Establishing the Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus, the forerunner of the Treaty Establishing the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Over a period of the past 25 years, we have accomplished and achieved a great deal together. We now take many of our achievements for granted, for example, the fact that the citizens of our two countries have equal rights in healthcare, social protection, retirement benefits, education, and the freedom of movement, residence and employment.
The economies of Russia and Belarus are closely interconnected. Russia is the largest foreign investor in the Republic of Belarus and accounts for 30 percent of foreign investment. Some 2,400 Russian companies are working in Belarus. Russia accounts for nearly 50 percent of the foreign trade of Belarus.
We are working energetically now to coordinate a programme of the unification of our countries’ legislations in a variety of areas, including tax and customs. Its implementation will enable us to balance the conditions for doing business, complete the establishment of common financial and energy markets and a common transportation environment, as well as to formulate common industrial, agricultural and digital policies.
The continued development of mutually beneficial Russian-Belarusian ties will be certainly promoted by a large package of interregional documents and commercial contracts signed during this forum.
This forum is focused on scientific and technological cooperation between Russia and Belarus in the era of digitalisation. This theme is fully in keeping with modern challenges and the high rate of technological change in all spheres of life.
Our countries have been cooperating in the field of science and technology for a long time now and quite successfully, joining forces to address the strategic task of creating a common scientific, technological and digital environment in the Union State. It is also important for our regions to join in the implementation of our digital agenda.
I would like to point out that we have already implemented a number of joint innovative programmes and projects in data processing, geological exploration and energy, plus genome and medical research. I would like to take advantage of this occasion to say that the manufacturing of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus began in Belarus this year.
A Science and Technology Prize has been established in the Union State; it is awarded every other year to Russian and Belarusian scientists and research teams.
The Belarusian-Russian University, which was created in Mogilev, has been granted the status of a state university in both countries. It is a major regional research and educational centre comprising departments in a broad range of disciplines, a vocational school, and architecture and construction college, and an advanced training and retraining institute.
Russia and Belarus are working together to improve the academic mobility conditions for students and lecturers of their universities. In addition to this, Belarusian citizens can enrol for all kinds of tuition in Russian universities, including state-financed openings based on competitive examinations. Furthermore, the results of the Belarusian system of Central Testing and the results of School Olympiads of the Union State will be recognised in Russia already this year.
It is notable that the scientific and technological cooperation of Russia and Belarus has an applied aspect, and our joint achievements are being used to modernise our industries and knowledge-intensive sectors in both countries.
We are paying considerable attention to the digitalisation of the economy and the introduction of technological and financial innovations. The governments of Russia and Belarus are currently analysing the possibility of using uniform digital solutions, which should greatly simplify taxation, customs clearance and the monitoring of cargo transit. Taken together, this will boost the development of private enterprise in our countries on an equal, non-discrimination basis.
The largest Russian-Belarusian high-tech project is, without a doubt, the construction by Rosatom of a nuclear power plant in Belarus. The scientific ties established during this project and the experience we have accumulated offer cooperation opportunities for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in many other spheres, namely the construction of low-capacity nuclear power plants and also nuclear medicine.
An important agreement was signed this year between the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute and the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. It provides for creating an infrastructure for joint fundamental and applied research under the auspices of the Union State.
We are also actively developing cooperation in the field of space exploration. The research communities of Russia and Belarus are discussing several scenarios for practical interaction in several promising areas, including the creation of a plasma propulsion engine for spacecraft.
Of course, we should also join forces in the strategic sphere of climate change, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the creation of an industry that will utilise them. I talked about this during Direct Line yesterday. People in Russia and, I am quite sure, also in Belarus are worried about these matters, they are interested in them for a reason, because they concern everyone. The use of nature-like technologies, which will reduce the burden on the environment and ensure a new quality of life for people, is extremely important in this context.
Our forum is being held ahead of Independence Day in the Republic of Belarus, which is celebrated on July 3, the day when Minsk was liberated from Nazi invaders in 1944. I would like to use this occasion to wholeheartedly congratulate all our Belarusian colleagues, our friends and the brotherly people of Belarus as a whole on their main national holiday.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the forum organisers and participants for the contribution they have made and to wish you all every success.
Thank you for your attention.
Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko: Thank you very much, Mr President.
It is also a great honour for me to give the floor to President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Thank you, Ms Matviyenko.
First of all, I would like to turn to the part of your opening remarks where you sincerely thank the two presidents for their participation. I must say that it is the President of Russia and I who should thank you, Ms Matviyenko, and Ms Natalya Kochanova [Chair of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus] – the two most active women in the Union State.
Our Forum is unique – we will not likely find anything similar in the world, where, in addition to fulfilling their direct duties of writing and adopting laws, lawmakers are so deeply involved in the economy.
The Forum of Regions is primarily an economic venue, a venue for the governments. And, let’s be straight: you can really thank us only for taking part. For what purpose? If the presidents take part in this Forum, then the key members, as you put it, of the government and other branches of authority as well as all the regional governors in Russia and Belarus will come to this venue and take part in the Forum. This is probably our main contribution. You are doing all the rest and it is a good job. I see this in Belarus, and I see it in Russia. You came [to Belarus], talked a lot about it. This is your contribution and, I would like to emphasise it again, a unique form of work by the Federation Council and the Council of the Republic – the upper chambers of the two countries’ parliaments.
I spoke with Mr Putin on the eve of this session. We talked by telephone and updated some of the issues of our Forum, primarily economic issues.
Mr Putin, thank you once again for supporting Belarus and Belarusians in this difficult period of time, supporting us in public this time, especially against the backdrop of attempts to destabilise the situation in Belarus, economically as well. This is why we deemed it necessary to return to the problems that our two states are facing now.
To sum up our conversation, it comes down to our conclusion. We will not simply withstand the attacks against our states. Following the example of the Russian Federation when it had to deal with the sanctions, we will use this time to enhance economic cooperation and make our states absolutely independent not just as economic entities. This is the outcome of our talks.
Just like the President of Russia, I would also like to greet all participants in the 8th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions. These traditional meetings, which take place under the patronage of our parliament, the upper chambers of the parliament, have become a major economic and communication project of the Union State.
Belarus maintains close contacts with over 70 regions of Russia, from Smolensk to Sakhalin. Every year Minsk receives at least a dozen delegations headed by governors of Russian regions. These facts, along with the activities of the Forum of Regions, have proven that the latter is a unique expansive integration platform in the Eurasian space that enables such successful development of Russia-Belarus cooperation. These meetings are principally distinguished by their extensive, engaging, open and highly useful dialogue between friends, partners and representatives of our brotherly nations.
The years-long joint efforts have resulted in tangible results that can be expressed in concrete figures. Over seven years, we have signed more than 370 cooperation agreements and contracts worth almost $3 billion; I would like to emphasise that over a quarter of this amount was as a result of last year’s business meetings. Such dynamics are encouraging. We expect this year's forum to add around $800 million.
I am particularly proud to announce that several days ago, as Mr President has mentioned, the first unit of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant was launched, with the second one expected to start operating in a year. This is definitely the most ambitious and successful Belarusian-Russian project of the past few decades, and clear evidence that Belarusian and Russian people have every opportunity for further expansion of economic, cultural and friendly links. I would also like to note once more that not only did Russia respond to our request to provide assistance in the construction of the nuclear power plant, but the Russian President also responded to my request when I asked him to involve a large number of our construction workers in this joint project to provide Belarusians with experience and knowledge in such work.
We also agreed with the Russian President that we will be ready to jointly implement such projects together with Russia outside our countries, if necessary – and there is already a need for this. Everyone is aware that Russia is building plenty of power units across the globe, with another dozen planned. We are ready to take part in these construction efforts as we have already learned a few things from our brotherly nation.
Also, our interaction is taking place amid increasing tension in the international arena, where destructive tendencies are prevalent, unfortunately.
The pandemic has become a serious test of strength, the world’s number one problem. Under the circumstances, Russia and Belarus are doing all they can to stop it. We see that it is too early to relax, but I am sure we will cope with it through a concerted effort.
Well, I must thank Russia again. You probably remember our conversation during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic. This was when you created the first vaccine, Sputnik V and were working on others. The President of Russia said publicly that Belarus would be the first country they would help with the vaccine and that they would share the technology to produce the vaccine. This has been done. So, Mr President, I would like to thank you again in public, on behalf of the Belarusian people, for the timely supply of the planned volume of the vaccine and for sharing the technology to produce it. Now we are operating this smoothly, producing over half a million doses a month. This is more than enough to vaccinate the population of Belarus. If necessary, we will be able to transfer back vaccine doses for Russia’s use as we agreed.
As for geopolitical challenges, the leaders of the Western world have staked a lot on force; they are openly interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states and continuously changing the rules in relations while ignoring fundamental agreements. We see how hard the leadership of Russia try to preserve the fragile balance of forces on our planet. Unfortunately, the collective West, Washington and Brussels do not always want to listen to constructive proposals. Our opponents are impeding all realistic, positive initiatives and provoking new crises. This basically amounts to the destruction of the security architecture created after WWII, for which we paid nothing less than 30 million Soviet lives.
At first, our former allies brought up a generation with the belief that the war was unleashed by Stalin and won by the United States and Britain. Now they are rewriting history and trying to vindicate Nazism. Some post-Soviet countries have felt this in full measure.
A similar scenario has not yet been implemented in Belarus. This is why we are being subjected to undisguised economic and political pressure. This pressure may not have been needed now if they had won their blitzkrieg last August. Something went wrong or there was another reason for this, as they like to put it.
At the same time, it is clear that the sanctions are simply unceremonious attempts to remove their economic rivals and lay their hands on the human and material resources of our states. The West wants to curb development, disrupt integration projects and change the course of Belarus, and not just Belarus. So, the consolidation of unity and the expansion of cooperation, which the President of Russia has just talked about, are acquiring special significance.
Mr President, once again, I wish to thank you and the Russian people for your support in the battle to preserve the sovereignty and independence of Belarus.
Thank you for the congratulations to the Belarusian people that you have just read out. It is critically important and valuable for us, because we see the state sovereignty of our southern neighbours melting away. But let the southerners forgive us, it just so happened, so we have to bring this up and keep talking about it. Only people are suffering from this, and we cannot allow fraternal ties between the peoples to be severed. You just spoke so well about this yesterday during Direct Line. The Ukrainian people are not to be blamed for anything, they are our brothers, we have always been together with them, and we will be together with them in the future. What can we do now that the leadership of the fraternal Ukraine has taken a different path?
Our summit is dedicated, as has just been said, to scientific and technological cooperation in the era of digitalisation. Digital technology has long become an integral part of our reality, and humanity is likely to face even more global changes in the future. However, I am convinced that these changes must promote real productive industries and improve people's lives.
Clearly, for the countries that lack the necessary resources, the digital divide poses a threat of insurmountable inequality. Humanity must not become hostage to this situation. I am confident that we cannot allow certain states to dominate over others. It is likewise clear that no one will give us this technology. We must rely only on ourselves and cooperation.
Industrial and scientific cooperation appears to be the main driving force behind our integration. Although, I think, Mr President, and we have already reached an agreement on this during the board meeting: why should we rely on certain digital technologies and so on? We ourselves can offer things to our foreign partners, if they want, since we are not lagging behind in this regard.
The time is ripe to develop a joint practice-oriented digital agenda. In this area, our interaction is lagging behind, indeed. We, in Russia and Belarus, have learned a thing or two, and it is now time to create a joint agenda. The Union State programmes should be instrumental in implementing this agenda. Most of them allow us to create and replicate high-tech materials and production sites, especially since cooperation between Belarusian and Russian researchers in academic science is expanding rapidly. We are expanding cooperation in outer space exploration, creating high-performance information processing systems, and nanomaterials. We are working on medical problems and have achieved good results in these industries.
The Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences is effectively cooperating with the institutes run by the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, which once again proves the success of direct contacts with the regions.
The key task is to raise the global competitiveness of our nations, which is practically impossible in the contemporary world without substantial innovations.
Regrettably, the real, industrial sector of our economies does not have enough high-tech production or growth. I believe that a transition to digital platforms will help boost the innovative potential of Belarus and Russia. The platforms can become key tools for a digital transformation of traditional industries and markets.
In the coming year of 2022, our countries will finish implementing the priority areas and foremost tasks for the development of the Union State, which we traditionally approve for a four-year period. I suggest considering the possibility of drafting a long-term strategy for the Union State’s integration, for example, up to 2030, and filling it with specific projects, taking into account key priorities and development trends.
Recently the President of Russia and I dedicated a lot of time to the development of cutting-edge productions which deal with integrated circuits. It is crucial for us. Unfortunately, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we somewhat destroyed the IC-producing enterprises both in Belarus and in Russia. However, we have agreed that we have a good basis, we will revive these enterprises, and they will operate at the highest level in the coming years. As the President said, no high-tech products – in space, defence or other areas – are possible today without these enterprises. We are working very hard on this project with the Russians.
Creating and using AI (artificial intelligence) is a separate topic. Dozens of companies working in this area have been rapidly developing in the Belarus High-Tech Park in the past two or three years. Many of our IT-products could be used in Russia, including in the regions; we do have such experience. The Park has been successfully competing in the toughest and most demanding markets. We do not have any problems with IT-specialists now, as the Belarusian Academy of Sciences president reported to me, thanks to the Park, or maybe thanks to the fact that we took up this issue properly in due time.
We have a huge tier of IT-specialists in industry and at the Academy of Sciences. They are not just designing software; they use it to make final products, as I say, turn it into hardware, thus producing a final product, unlike the High-Tech Park, which has to sell the high-level software they design for half its worth to large companies, primarily in the United States. We need to move over to final products in our Union State, following the lead of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. I am sure Russia has the same trend.
But when creating AI, there are concerns (expressed all over the world) that it could become a tool for manipulation and a major weapon in a hybrid war. The ubiquity of digital technology, lack of geo-referencing and wide availability raise the question of the digital sovereignty of states and their cyber independence. And, as a result, we have another big field for cooperation, where we need to build up a joint effort, as the President of Russia said yesterday in Direct Line, in ensuring cybersecurity.
Both Russia and Belarus have already had to face the destructive outcome of various network technologies, which are used in the constant, uncompromising battle for people’s minds and souls on the internet. This is our common threat and we must learn how to counter it effectively. We have already learned some things together with Russia.
Today, when the door is opening to a new world where AI behaves almost like humans, we have to remember that we should not lose our essence, the human himself and everything human in him.
Under these conditions, the role of the media in covering political, economic and integration processes is increasing significantly. We have to strengthen our allied media as well as its influence in the general information field, especially on the internet, develop an immunity to ‘fake’ information, and ensure a high level of security in the media space.
In addition, we have to work with young people more specifically and really make youth policy a priority in the Union State: we have agreed with the President of Russia to discuss this at the next Union State Supreme State Council meeting. We have to raise creative youth, patriots and creators, who connect their future and the future of their children with the future of their homeland, as well as open new prospects for them in the Union State’s education space.
Friends, Russia has always been and always will be a strategic partner to Belarus, and our fraternal union is a value that must be preserved, multiplied, and passed on to the generations to come. This is our mission, the mission of our generation, and we will do everything possible for it.
Thank you for your attention.