Vladimir Putin: It remains for me to confirm the positive character of the negotiations held yesterday and today.
For my own part, I would like to thank my Belarusian colleagues and friends for the very favourable atmosphere created for our joint work. We have worked constructively, I repeat, both yesterday and today. We are satisfied with the results. We have reviewed the results of joint work in 2002 and outlined the perspective for the future. We discussed all the aspects which have just been named: including security issues and the future Union. You know that a commission has been set up and its status has been upgraded by the suggestion of the Belarusian President. It is headed by the speakers of the lower houses of both Parliaments. We have agreed to continue this work, I mean the work on amendments and the discussion of the proposals on both sides at the highest level.
Naturally, work to create an economic basis for the Union State should be the main area of our activities. We are approaching a milestone in our interaction. I am referring to the fact that under the treaty the Russian rouble is to become the common currency starting on January 1, 2005. It requires massive preparatory work and we discussed it today at length and in a constructive manner. Everybody assumes that the preparatory stage of that work must begin very soon with a view to proceed jointly according to a defined technical plan.
I think these are the main results because I believe harmonising the laws in the field of social policy is very important for ordinary citizens in our countries. That applies to pensions, access to medical care, movement and so on and so forth. Our experts have done some good work on that and we have approved the relevant concept. The task now is to implement it effectively. I hope we can do it.
Question: A question for the two Presidents. Are the two sides ready for the introduction on January 1, 2005 of the single currency and how do you see the situation with the creation of a joint gas transportation enterprise?
Vladimir Putin: I have just been speaking about it. We have discussed the problem. Starting on January 1, 2005 and until 2008 the Russian rouble is to be used as the common legal currency. That requires a certain amount of preparatory work, very complicated work. We have formulated our proposals. I think that in the spring we must agree on further steps and move in that direction. If that does not happen then of course we won’t be able to implement these plans by January 1, 2005. You know that initially the proposal was to introduce the Russian rouble as the single currency on January 1, 2004, but that deadline was of course too difficult. To meet it, we had to get to a flying start. We have been a bit too slow, but January 1, 2005 is a realistic deadline within the framework of the treaty.
As regards our joint work to create a single gas transportation and distribution system, we have some understandings with the Belarusian side. There is a slight shift of schedule, but on the whole we are satisfied with the way the situation is developing. Belarus has passed a law and it is about to be signed by the President.
(A. Lukashenko’s remark)
Mr Lukashenko says he has already signed the law. There is nothing to prevent us from implementing these plans within the agreed timeframe, that is, by next July.
Question: A question for both Presidents again. You have said several times, including today, that ensuring equal rights for the citizens of Belarus and Russia and creating a level playing field for them was one of the tasks in the building of the Union State. Obviously, much has already been done in this area, but there are still some questions on which there is little or no progress. What is the reason for this situation and is there a real opportunity to speed up the process?
Vladimir Putin: That is precisely what we have been doing all these years. What is the main prerequisite? What is the main condition that would ensure equality of the economic entities? It is the creation of a common economic space which is inconceivable and cannot exist unless it functions according to the same economic laws accepted by both sides.
A common economic space implies that we develop and act according to the same economic laws and recognise these laws on each other’s territory. To achieve such a situation, the introduction of a single legal currency in the shape of the Russian rouble is an important milestone. And this is what we began discussing last night and what we discussed at length today. And now, in the course of this meeting, ladies and gentlemen, it is the third time that we are turning to this key issue. If common economic laws are applied in Russia and Belarus and if we are guided by them, then our businesses will be on an equal footing. Failing that, issues will constantly arise, which will cause disputes; and we will be unable to decide who is right and who is wrong.
As for the citizens of Russia and Belarus, real people, we speak about it all the time. The Belarusian President always keeps it in mind, including the former times when he initiated the process together with the first President of Russia. This is in fact the aim of the work to create the Union State and we pay great attention to it.
I am aware that the introduction of the new Russian law on immigration has raised many questions in many CIS countries. And anticipating any questions on that topic I can tell you that Mr Lukashenko raised this issue during our meeting today. I can tell you that the new Russian migration legislation does not apply to the citizens of Belarus. The citizens of Belarus will not be required to fill out any migration cards in Russia. Please do not confuse the registration of the persons who come to major Russian cities with these migration cards. In the latter case, if they are registered in large cities, that rule fully applies to Russian citizens as well, and it is not applied only to the citizens of Belarus. It is an internal matter of the Russian Federation and we have a legal discussion going on to determine what is and what is not constitutional, but this does not mean special requirements for the citizens of Belarus.
And the last thing: the Internal Affairs Ministry of the Russian Federation has put a proposal to its Belarusian counterparts, and in Belarus the issues of migration are handled by other agencies and not by the Internal Affairs Ministry. Even so, they have established good contacts. The Russian colleagues have proposed that Belarusian officials from the relevant agency issue corresponding documents to citizens of third countries on their western border, documents that would be valid in the Russian Federation. But I would like to stress that in any case that would not apply to the citizens of Belarus.