Alexander Lukashenko: I would like to tell you about the issues on today’s agenda, one by one…
…As far as economic issues are concerned, we discussed some of them, in particular, the details of establishing the Common Economic Space and creating a common customs space. We discussed efforts to finish harmonising customs duties in Russia and Belarus. We also evaluated the prospects of harmonising our fiscal legislation. Both Russia and Belarus have done a great deal, I must say. These issues will be resolved completely following our resolutions, which will appear some time in the first six months of next year.
We talked a lot about a common monetary system and introducing a single currency in the Union State of Belarus and Russia. To tell the truth, each of us had his own views. We have signed an agreement which will govern our work. The Russian rouble will enter circulation by 2005 to become the single currency for 2005–2008. After that we will either establish a new single currency or leave the Russian rouble.
We also agreed in principle to establish a single issuing centre. There are many problems to settle in this area. This is a difficult matter, so we cannot say anything positive before we resolve those problems. Why am I saying this now? I am grateful to my colleague Vladimir Putin for raising the issue. He said the single issuing centre and other questions concerned both countries’ sovereignty. That is why, when we later establish supranational bodies and entrust them with certain functions, when we take away bit by bit some of Russia’s and Belarus’ sovereignty, as he put it, we will later turn to the people and ask for their advice. Members of Parliament must make relevant decisions, and the Presidents must take part in decision-making.
So this is a very delicate matter, and we decided to be in no hurry about it. We are not pressed for time, so I don’t think the matter will be settled even in the next five years …
I asked Mr Putin for Russia to support our currency, as we have pegged it to the Russian rouble. Mr Putin promised such support – a loan involving a negligible sum for Russia, which I will not specify here. I thank him for our principled accord. All this will be settled sooner or later, and Russia will help us if it can. In other words, Russia is acting here as a kind of International Monetary Fund. That’s our system.
Vladimir Putin: The Minsk meeting has reached its objectives. The Russian delegation is satisfied with the achievements and the businesslike manner of our discussions. We are grateful to our Belarusian colleagues for organising the work. Thank you.
Question: Would you please specify the issues you discussed concerning prospects for economic integration, especially the single currency that will be introduced? To all appearances, this is a factor which is impeding integration.
Vladimir Putin: Economic integration is the basis of unity, and the introduction of a single currency and a single issuing centre is the basis of economic integration. In this sense, previous agreements will not be revised: the Russian rouble will become the currency for both countries in 2005, to be replaced by the union currency in 2008. We don’t know yet what this currency will be. The Belarusian President was right to say that this problem can, and must, be solved together with the people of both countries and their Parliaments.