Seventy Russian and every Belarusian region were represented at the 6th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions. Attendees included more than a thousand delegates from the two countries, including official delegations from the upper houses of the parliaments.
The forum is taking place in St Petersburg on July 16–18 under the auspices of the Russian Federation Council and the Belarusian Council of the Republic. The previous forum was held in 2018 in Mogilev. The forum was held for the first time in 2014 in Minsk.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, friends,
I am happy to welcome all of you to the 6th Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions here in St Petersburg. Regular meetings between representatives of regional and local government bodies, business communities, educators, scientists and cultural workers play a great role in developing friendly relations between Russia and Belarus.
Forum co-chairs Valentina Matviyenko and Mikhail Myasnikovich, other speakers and all the participants shared their in-depth opinions, the main results of your work, discussions, decisions and cooperation plans.
I want to stress that Belarus is Russia’s closest ally and strategic partner and our relations are based on the principles of neighbourliness, mutual respect and consideration for each other’s interests.
Our countries are strengthening political and economic cooperation within the Union State, which is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Russia and Belarus are largely involved in the Eurasian Economic Union and building common commodity, service, capital and labour markets. We closely cooperate within the framework of other regional organisations, including the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).
I want to note that last year our mutual trade increased by almost 10 percent to $30.5 billion. Russia accounts for about a half of all Belarusian foreign trade. Our country is also the largest source of cumulative direct investment in the Belarusian economy, equal to almost $4 billion.
Russian and Belarusian regions are bound by over 350 agreements aimed at expanding cooperation in industry, agriculture, construction, pharmaceuticals and transport. Quite a few interregional documents were signed during this Forum as well. We hope that their implementation will facilitate further consolidation of the Russia-Belarus partnership across all areas of focus.
Friends, today’s forum is dedicated to the establishment of a common cultural space of Russia and Belarus. Of course, this is an important task with all the opportunities to pursue it. Our countries’ people have a common history and strong cultural and spiritual ties; we are proud of our common successes and achievements in different areas and remember the harsh trials and ordeals we have had to face in the past and we passed these trials with flying colours.
Next year we will celebrate an important date: the 75th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. Our nations paid a great price for their freedom and independence, for the chance to live in peace, and we must preserve the historical truth about the Great Patriotic War and provide real support for the veterans.
In addition, 2020 will be the Year of Memory and Glory in Russia. A major programme of events is being prepared, and we expect our Belarusian friends to play an active part in them.
The Joint Event Plan to 2021 signed this April is also designed to further develop cooperation between Russia and Belarus. In particular, it envisages musical and theatre festivals, days of Russian and Belarusian cinema, exhibition exchanges and projects to support child and teenage art.
We also hope to expand academic and educational contacts. Our countries already have 1,300 agreements in this area as well as a bilateral commission working on financing research projects, such as the establishment of a youth technopark in Mogilev: a technically advanced, cutting-edge scientific and technological complex.
University and student exchanges will also be supported. Russia is working on possible new grants for Belarusians at our universities. As of today, almost 4,000 Belarusians are studying there for free. We plan to hold the National Final School Exam in Minsk to fast-track the admission of Belarusians in 2020. Later this practice may be extended to other Belorussian cities, of course, in agreement with the Belarusian leadership and the two countries’ corresponding agencies.
Special attention is given to cooperation on improving the vocational education system and the quality of training skilled labour force. This month Veliky Novgorod hosted the Young Professionals forum that was attended by a Belarusian delegation, among others. We suggest organising such fora on a regular basis, in turn in Russia and Belarus, in order to exchange best practices and experience, and increase the status of labour jobs.
By the way, the 45th WorldSkills competition will be held in Kazan at the end of the summer. These competitions are a test and a review of professionals from a variety of industries and small businesses and a presentation of skills in using the latest equipment and technologies. And naturally we are looking forward to the Belarusian representatives in Kazan.
Relations in sport between our countries are becoming more active and our national sports federations and regions are cooperating very closely. The 2nd European Games 2019 took place in Minsk recently. I want to congratulate our Belarusian friends on this event, and the President of Belarus, who, as I know, did a lot for the preparation and holding of these major international competitions. It is great that Russian and Belarusian athletes won the greatest number of medals there.
In the future, I think, it would be helpful to make wider use of our countries’ sports infrastructure for joint training of Russian and Belarusian athletes for major international championships, in particular, for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and Winter Olympics in Beijing.
And, of course, I cannot help but point out the dynamic development of tourism. The Belarusian representative and the Mogilev leader mentioned this. Russians account for over 80 percent of all foreign visitors in Belarus. And Belarusians frequently visit various Russian regions. In general, common historical roots, spiritual values and traditions, and family ties really bring us together in a single whole of the fraternal peoples of Russia and Belarus.
Friends, in conclusion, I would like to thank the organisers and participants of this forum for the work done. I hope you have found St Petersburg interesting.