Before the session, President Vladimir Putin and President Alexander Lukashenko held a meeting. In a discussion with his Belarusian counterpart, President Putin expressed satisfaction with the pace at which Russian-Belarusian economic contact was developing. At the moment Belarus was Russia’s second largest trading partner after Germany, and Russian-Belarusian trade in 2002 reached almost $10 billion. Mr Putin called that a good result, but admitted the full potential of Russian-Belarusian cooperation was far from fully realised.
The discussion of trade and economic cooperation and integration continued at a meeting of the Supreme State Council, which apart from the heads of state was also attended by the prime ministers and parliamentary speakers of Russia and Belarus.
Opening the meeting, President Putin said that the establishment of the Union State was the strategic goal of Russian-Belarusian partnership. In that context the President expressed the hope that the two countries’ constitutional commission would successfully complete its job of drafting a Constitutional Act of Russia and Belarus. President Putin recalled that the commission’s status had recently been raised, its composition, on the suggestion of the Belarusian side, updated, and its work started.
Mr Putin said that the good start that had been made on packaged agreements to form a common economic space and expand cooperation in the energy sphere between Russia and Belarus, was very important.
President Putin urged more active support for the introduction of a single currency for the Union State. A highlight of the two countries’ cooperation is social equality between citizens of Russia and Belarus, their right to free travel, employment and social protection.
Speaking of the problems of a Union budget, President Putin favoured higher financial discipline.
The meeting summed up the achievements of Union bodies in 2002, examined a common defence policy, outlined prospects for the future, and approved a Union budget for 2003. The 2003 budget was adopted by the Union’s Parliamentary Assembly in January and totals 2.438 billion Russian roubles. The Russian Federation will contribute 1.53 billion roubles in revenues, and Belarus, 824 million. Belarusian arrears for 2000–2002 stand at 1.4 billion roubles.
At the end of the meeting, Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko gave a joint news conference. The Russian head of state said that Russia and Belarus agreed to develop cooperation in the gas sphere. As early as next July Russia’s Gazprom and Belarus’s Beltransgaz would set up a joint venture to transport Russian energy to Europe. The modalities of the venture are to be stipulated in an inter-governmental agreement. Another objective is to harmonise prices on Russian natural gas supplied to Belarus and fees for transporting it to European consumers through Belarusian gas distribution systems.
Dealing with prospects for integration, President Putin said that January 1, 2005 was set as the deadline for introducing the Russian rouble as the sole legal tender in the Union State. President Lukashenko in turn said that such a decision must be implemented in strict compliance with the provisions of the Treaty on the Union State.
Speaking to journalists, President Putin again stressed that the new Russian migration laws did not apply to citizens of Belarus and the Belarusians would retain their right to unimpeded travel across Russian territory. But he warned against confusing migration cards with registration in Russian cities and towns, noting that this procedure was also binding on Russians.