Belarus TV: What is your opinion of the current state of the integration processes, especially their economic component?
Vladimir Putin: It’s good. In that context I would like to draw your attention to the positive work on harmonising tax legislation. We have signed a corresponding treaty, and today the Belarusian President and I discussed its implementation. A lot of time was dedicated to another important component of our economic cooperation – reconciling our customs policy. As you know, Russia is planning to significantly restructure this sphere. Starting from January 1 next year, we will introduce unified custom duties, and we believe that our joint efforts in this area are very important. Today we agreed with the Belarusian President to instruct our respective customs authorities to analyse the situation, report on the results at the upcoming meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State and submit them for review by the Council of Heads of State scheduled for November 30.
RIA NOVOSTI: You have discussed preparations for the Supreme Council meeting. What is your opinion of the way the Council’s executive bodies are formed?
Vladimir Putin: We will try to avoid one thing – an excess of officials with vague functions. The number of employees should conform to the tasks entrusted to each government body.
We are in the process of creating the Union State from the ground up, and we are lucky to have avoided Moses’ fate and saved our people from 40 years of wandering in the desert. Right from the start we can decide how many employees we should have to perform the tasks set. The standing committee will have 110 employees, and we have agreed that this limit will be reached only when the committee has a lot of work to do. Right now it has just the right number of staff to tackle its current tasks.
Question: What is your opinion of Russian-Belarusian inter-regional contacts? Are they intensive enough?
Vladimir Putin (adding to Alexander Lukashenko’s answer): The intensity of our inter-regional contacts has not diminished over time – they are just as intensive today as they were in the past. Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] said on several occasions that Belarus is the “assembly shop” of the former USSR. In this sense many Russian regions are sincerely interested in maintaining and further developing contacts with Belarus. This regional cooperation continues and shall receive every possible means of support from the Russian leadrship.
Ort (Russian Public Television): Mr Putin, you are on vacation now, right? Apart from business meetings, how do you spend your time?
Vladimir Putin: With friends.