President Vladimir Putin: I can only add that a great deal of work has indeed been done. And yesterday, our colleagues made another step forward – they agreed on a list of priority projects and priority agreements which should be coordinated during this year. I think that during 2005, and perhaps in the beginning of 2006, we may well sign the first set of these documents and begin direct work in the framework of the economic space that we have talked about.
I want to stress separately that no county is joining any organisation. We are creating a Common Economic Space together. There should not be any mistaken ideas that someone is dragging someone else into a regional organisation by force. No, we have gathered together to work out rules of behaviour in the economic sphere during discussion, rules that will be beneficial to all four nations. And there is an understanding of how this should be done. And one more thing: the creation of a Common Economic Space does not stop each of our countries from taking part in international and European integration process. This practice exists in the world and it is widely used. This only involves making our economies more competitive on world markets. And if we take part in international and European processes, then it will be from a certain position – a position that is worthy of our countries and our peoples. And of course, the most important goal is to raise the living standard of the ordinary citizens of our countries.
Question (Alexander Timoshenko, Belarussian television): I have a question for the Belarussian President. Mr Lukashenko, you were initially quite sceptical of the idea of creating the ”group of four“. Has your position changed now? And, if possible, a question for all Presidents. Are you certain that everything will be successful in the Common Economic Space? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: I can only add a little to what President Lukashenko began to talk about. Certain elements of the Common Economic Space already exist between Russia and Belarus. And the result is clear. Ukraine is a large country in size, larger than Belarus, but trade turnover between Russia and Belarus is almost three times greater than between Russia and Ukraine. This is the result of the system of the Common economic space, even before it has been completely introduced. This means that we are extremely interested in carrying out these plans. And it also means that these plans are feasible. And if both these points are correct, then my position is that it is possible. Whether we are able to do this or not will also depend on you, on how you inform and promote this idea in the minds of our citizens. The position of the media is very important here. And we need your support.
Question (G. Karakoza, Kazakhstan national television): Please tell us whether it is planned to expand the Common Economic Space in the format ”four plus,“ and have any countries already made such applications? And will this lead to the creation of new structures besides the customs and transport unions proposed by President Nazarbaev? And what structures will be created besides the customs and transport unions? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We do not intend to create unnecessary administrative structures here. Essentially, so far it is planned to create only one regulatory body within the framework of the Common Economic Space. So far, it is named conditionally.
Question (N. Semenikhina, Russian television ”First channel“): I have a question for all the Presidents. I would like to return to the topic of the World Trade Organisation, and specify how the drive to develop the Common Economic Space relates to joining the WTO. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: There are no contradictions between WTO membership and regional economic organisations. And these problems are easily solved by several methods. My colleagues have already talked about this. Each side, each members of a regional or economic organisation either regulates its issues with the WTO itself, and then agrees on them with its other partners in the regional economic organisation, or the entire organisation develops common principles, and on these common principles all countries as members of the organisation join the World Trade Organisation. All these methods have been tried around the world and function in practice. There is no need to go very far to find examples. We all know that all members of the European Union are members of the WTO, and that the European Union itself is a member of the WTO. We are now in quite a privileged position, because we can coordinate our position towards the World Trade Organisation at an early stage of our integration processes. And, without breaking the rules that apply in this organisation, such as the rules of the discussion process, we will of course do this.
Question (A. Vysoky, New Channel (Ukraine)): I have a technical question for Vladimir Putin. We often hear about the so-called economic constitution of the Common Economic Space – a code of necessary documents and bills. In your opinion, and according to your assessment, which of them are the most significant and essential, and which will you pass first? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Today we spent 90 percent of our time discussing this very issue. And we reached the conclusion that Ukraine has its priorities, Kazakhstan has its priorities, Belarus has its priorities, and the Russian Federation has its own special interest. And every time that we start to study one of these issues, we face a second, third, fourth and fifth issue. This is why our experts singled out this group of agreements – project 61. But nevertheless, on the suggestion of the Ukrainian President, we ordered our experts, even in the framework of this priority project 61, to try to single out the most important things. And if they are able to do this, we will find out about this at our meeting in Astana in September. It is very significant, I would say, that unlike the current constitutions, these agreements that we are talking about can be separately examined and passed, and made into a kind of codex. This is the conditional name of the constitution. But the only difference is that all these agreements should be norms of direct action.