President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko,
Thank you for coming here as agreed. We agreed to meet even before yet another round of…
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: An outburst of emotions.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, an outburst of emotions. We have things to discuss even without these events. I mean to say that in the first quarter of this year, our trade grew by a considerable 18.4 percent, and Russia remains a key trade and economic partner of Belarus. This is a good trend, and it is important to keep it going along with the Government’s active work. Our Prime Minister is in Minsk as we speak.
Alexander Lukashenko: Everyone is there.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, they are all attending the CIS event [summit of the Council of the CIS Heads of Government], and I know he contacted his Belarusian colleagues. He even called me from there today and told me how it was going.
Alexander Lukashenko: We met with them in the morning.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I know.
In June, we will put the first unit of a nuclear power plant into operation.
Alexander Lukashenko: Industrial operation.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we can say that in this sense we are completing our work. This is also a good example of our cooperation.
There are positive trends in other areas as well. We will certainly focus on all this just as you and I concentrate on the building of the Union State. We are doing this in a measured manner, proceeding from the need to ensure the interests of both Belarus and Russia. We are moving confidently along this path.
This work is already producing specific results for our citizens. The main point is to do everything consistently, without rushing or jumping ahead. We must work in stages with a view to ensuring our interests as we ourselves determine them.
The weather in Sochi is good, as you can see. We can go for a swim.
Alexander Lukashenko: With pleasure.
Vladimir Putin: The sea is getting warmer and warmer. I think this will also help us reach results today.
I am very happy to see you.
Alexander Lukashenko: Thank you, Mr Putin, for your empathetic invitation, on a Friday, which gives us the opportunity to take a swim in the sea over the weekend. This is how I understood your invitation.
Yes, indeed, there is a lot of talk about the meeting, which is a surprise even to me. You know, there, “at the frontlines” we are watching every move very closely. “See, they meet quite often,” etc., but this is our plan. We announced at the end of last year that we, as you rightly said, would gradually discuss all issues. If we get stuck on some issue and cannot discuss it without expert input, we will take it to them. They will work on it and we will meet again. The main thing is to move forward.
You mentioned the growth in trade. We are now counting literally every fraction of a percent. We see that this year our trade with Russia will exceed pre-pandemic, pre-COVID levels. At that time, our trade was over $35 billion.
Vladimir Putin: Last year we had over $29 billion. It was over $29 billion despite the decline.
Alexander Lukashenko: Yes, and before COVID we had…
Vladimir Putin: …over 30.
Alexander Lukashenko: This is why our trade numbers are not bad. I see your GDP is in the same shape as ours… You know, they predicted near stagnation for us. Russia’s economy is growing, so naturally, tied to Russia, our economy is moving ahead normally.
But, you know, there are always people who want to add to our problems. You know about them. I will tell you. Given our trustful relationship, I brought along some documents so you can understand what is going on.
I will say the following on the record, so you can understand what kind of people these are, even though we have discussed many problems in this vein.
Do you remember a period last year when probably no country saved more of its people than Russia by evacuating them from resorts? It even helped evacuate 200 Belarusians from India. In some places, we did evacuate Russians. Our Belavia Airlines did the job.
At that time, everything was shut down. Only one airport was open, in Minsk, and we were evacuating our people. They closed everything. And asked Belavia – asked our company, and our company helped them evacuate thousands of people: Swedes, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians (they shut down everything) and Americans. We flew thousands of them to Minsk because it was the only airport open. Then the Americans flew their people out after we brought them there. You cannot imagine how grateful they were late last year and early this year, to us, to the Belavia team, for saving these people.
Belavia has nothing to do with this case, with this aircraft. What does Belavia have to do with it? There were no Belavia planes there. The company is based at the airport where you and others fly. A foreign plane. The military is accused of forcing it to land. But how is Belavia involved in this? Now they are penalising Belavia. If it had not been for your actions during this time… I saw that Moscow refused to accept aircraft and told them to fly around Belarus. They felt this right away.
But what exactly is Belavia being punished for? For evacuating thousands of them during the pandemic? This is their true face.
I will show you some documents. You will understand what is happening and what happened there. This is an attempt to destabilise the situation to the same level as last August.
Vladimir Putin: The Bolivian President’s plane was once forced to land, the President was escorted out of the plane – and nothing, silence.
Alexander Lukashenko: Absolutely. And what about the incident with the Russian plane in Turkey? The plane was en route to Syria. It allegedly carried weapons. It was forced to land and was inspected. Nobody yelled about this. Okay, it was inspected. That is your sovereign right.
Now it is simply clear what our Western friends want from us. What is there to discuss? But there are no heights the Bolsheviks would not have climbed. We will follow suit.