The plenary session of the Fifth Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions is devoted to the priority areas of the regional cooperation development as a key factor in integration and the building of the Union State.
Attending the event are Speaker of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly Valentina Matviyenko, Speaker of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich, State Secretary of the Union State Grigory Rapota, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus, Special Presidential Representative for Expanding Trade and Economic Cooperation with Belarus Mikhail Babich, as well as heads of ministries and agencies, executive and legislative bodies of authority, local governments of the Russian and Belarusian regions, and representatives of large businesses, public and scientific organisations.
The forum will bring together some 2,000 participants. The programme will include a crafts fair and the Painting Treasures exhibition, featuring works from the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Belarusian National Arts Museum.
The Forum of Regions is held to promote direct ties between Russia and Belarus, including through their legislative and executive authorities and business communities. It also drafts recommendations aimed at improving the legal framework for stimulating economic development in the two countries.
The first forum was held in Minsk in 2014, the second, in Sochi in 2015, the third, in Minsk in 2016 and the fourth, in Moscow in 2017.
* * *
Speech at a plenary session of the Fifth Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, colleagues. I am happy to greet all the participants.
Leaders of many Belarusian and Russian regions, as well as parliament members, businesspeople and prominent public figures are present here today in this hall. They are those who facilitate the strengthening of multilateral allied interaction between our countries.
I would like to emphasise the contribution made by the forum co-chairs: Valentina Matviyenko and Mikhail Myasnikovich. Colleagues, thanks to your initiative and personal efforts, the Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions has become an inseparable part of the active bilateral dialogue.
One thing that is valuable is that discussions between the forum participants are engaged and specific. Our colleagues just spoke about concrete issues with the intention of reaching feasible, specific agreements to further improve business and cultural contacts between our regions.
I would like to emphasise that Russia values its allied relations with Belarus. We strive to build relations in all areas based on good neighbourliness and, of course, mutual benefit. I would like to point out that together with Mr Lukashenko we attach special value to trade and economic cooperation and trade and economic ties.
Belarus ranks first in terms of trade volume with Russia among the CIS countries. Half of all Belarusian exports goes to the Russian market. Last year, trade volume increased by almost one fourth reaching $32.4 billion. In January-August 2018 it rose by 14.5 percent more. I believe we can manage to reach the $50 billion mark.
For comparison, I was in India recently. The country has a population of 1.1 billion; our trade volume is almost $10 billion, we have not reached this number yet, but I am sure we will achieve this and even better results. But our trade with Belarus is over $32 billion; the numbers speak for themselves. It shows the level of our cooperation.
We pay a great deal of attention to improving the investment climate. Russian capital investments in Belarus have exceeded $4 billion (Belarusian investments total $716.8 million). There are almost 2,500 companies with Russian participation operating in the republic.
The largest joint project is currently the construction of the Belarus Nuclear Power Plant. The first power unit will go into operation in late 2019 according to the schedule, while the entire station will be commissioned in 2020.
We are basically doing this to our disadvantage, building a nuclear power plant instead of delivering gas. But this will, undoubtedly, improve the energy situation, and will benefit the republic’s economy and create additional export opportunities.
Plans call for another important facility in Belarus: the Centre for Nuclear Research and Technology. Why do I mention this? Because, not only are we planning a very important industrial project but we are creating a new industry in Belarus. In Soviet times, Belarus was known for its scientists and a high level of education, but there was no separate nuclear industry. Soon there will be.
Several dozens of field programmes are being implemented within the Union State. At the same time, we are prioritizing the creation of advanced high-tech production and are further encouraging Russian and Belarusian businesses to introduce innovations in the real sector.
Russia and Belarus together are working on promoting integration processes in the Eurasian space. Within the Eurasian Economic Union, a common market for goods, services, capital and the workforce is being formed.
Of course, there are many discussions on these matters, many interests compete and sometimes clash, but we intend to move forward, and we are moving towards a common goal.
Together we are actively working on expanding trade ties with third states, such as India and China, and other organisations.
Today the problems and challenges that Russia and Belarus face have many things in common: providing long-term and stable growth and increasing the competitiveness on the foreign markets. The priority spheres where we hope to get the maximum economic effect include import substitution, industrial cooperation, agriculture, construction, pharmaceutics and state purchases.
Our countries’ governments and parliaments work progressively to bring the national laws closer. We believe the establishment of a common legal field will increase the efficiency of joint projects, including those implemented in the framework of the Union State. In this context, let me mention the Work in Russia information website that Belarusians can use on equal terms with Russians to find a job.
Priority Areas for Regional Cooperation Development as the Key Factor for Integration and Union Construction is the main theme of the forum.
First of all, I would like to note that almost all Russian regions maintain direct ties with their Belarusian colleagues. Moscow, St Petersburg, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and the Moscow, Leningrad, Smolensk, Bryansk, Yaroslavl, Pskov and Tyumen regions cooperate with Belarusian partners most actively.
The legal base of the regional cooperation includes over 320 documents. Several dozens of the new agreements and commercial contracts have been signed following this forum. In particular, the Voronezh Region, the Republic of Mary-El and the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area plan to expand their presence on the Belarusian market.
It is important that the forum’s agenda is focused on the digital economy. Today Russia does a lot both on the federal and regional levels to introduce the latest technology in various areas. I know that Mr Lukashenko also makes a serious effort to create innovation centres in Belarus.
I believe that recommendations on how to use online services for municipal management, housing and utilities and on how to provide access to such services as education, medicine and public transport will be drafted during this forum.
We believe it is important to encourage an exchange and cooperation projects in education and science. By the way, here in Mogilev, we have the Belarusian-Russian University that offers joint study programmes, including those on further education and vocational retraining. I know that Mr Lukashenko focuses on this. We just talked about it. He was an initiator in establishing the university.
Issues related to youth policy also play an important role in promoting interregional cooperation. Today, our colleagues have also discussed this. Of course, we should support the young generation’s civic engagement and its involvement in social and humanitarian programmes.
In this context, I would like to note how important it is to hold such events as Youth for the Union State and the congress of Russian and Belarusian students as part of the forum.
Speaking about youth, we should also mention our common goal to preserve our historical memory. A colleague of ours also just talked about this.
On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, I call on the heads of the regions to support the work of the youth search parties to find the burial sites and determine the names of the soldiers killed during the Great Patriotic War and to immortalise their memory as well as to cooperate in taking care of military burial sites and monuments.
In conclusion I would like to once again thank President Lukashenko, and all our Belarusian colleagues and friends for organising this work and for the atmosphere of friendship and cooperation that you manage to create during every event of this kind.
Thank you for your attention.