President Vladimir Putin: Good Day, ladies and gentlemen. We are ready to inform you briefly about what we talked about today. But first of all I would like to thank the Belarusian President Alexander Grigor’evich Lukashenko for accepting the invitation to come to Sochi. The last time we met was also here, in 2004.
Today’s meeting was very fruitful. We talked, in particular, about problems of economic cooperation. As you probably know, trade growth has come to more than 40% — this is a very good figure. True, for the first two months there was a large drop, but we attribute this to the holidays that we had in Russia: as you know, there were long Christmas holidays in Russia for the first time. Now trade is gradually evening out, and is reaching the former figures of growth.
We also talked about the political aspect of our cooperation, and agreed that we would soon hold an event in the framework of the Union state, and hold appropriate meetings in Moscow; we talked about problems of security of both countries, about cooperation between our state bodies on ensuring the rights of citizens of Russia and Belarus accordingly on the territories of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus; we discussed a very wide range of issues on cooperation between various bodies of power and administration.
I would like to thank Alexander Grigor’evich Lukashenko not just for coming here, but for the open atmosphere in which our talk was held. We reached an agreement on all the issues that we raised for discussion today. I am sure that this will be a good stimulus for cooperation between our countries, between appropriate departments, between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of Belarus. Thank you very much.
Question: If I am not mistaken, an agreement on introducing a common currency as from January 1, 2006, was reached during your meeting a year ago here in Sochi. As far as I recall, this was the result of a proposal by Belarus. Is this agreement still in force and how is work progressing in this area?
If you will allow, one other question for the Russian President. The Russian parliament has approved the law on the Public Council. Can we expect the law to be signed soon, or will there be some amendments made?
President Vladimir Putin: I will begin, if you will allow. Concerning the common currency, as far as I remember we agreed to push back its introduction. We did not settle on a precise date at that time. We also examined this question today, discussed the prospects for a common currency area and looked at examples of international practise in Western Europe and in other parts of the world. We talked about all of this in quite some detail. This is not a new idea. We once again reaffirmed today our commitment to going through with this project, which I consider to be of immense importance for integration and for the destiny, I would say, of the peoples of Russia and Belarus. This is a very serious decision and it must be properly prepared. This work is continuing at expert level. The Belarusian President has met on a number of occasions not just with Belarusian specialists but also with Russian experts. Belarus, the Belarusian President, are giving this question their attention, as is the Russian Federation. We will continue our work on this project. We are not talking now about a specific date for the common currency’s introduction, but I hope that this event will take place.
Concerning the Public Council, I have already signed the law on it. The Public Council’s main and most important objective is to create another channel through which Russia’s people can have an influence on the decisions taken in the country. This influence should be exercised through expert analysis of the relevant constitutional, federal and regional laws being passed and of executive acts of the Russian government and the executive authorities in the regions. I hope that the council will be formed and will soon begin its work in accordance with the laws.
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Question: Did you discuss gas issues and, in particular, the creation of a joint gas enterprise, the development of gas networks and price and tariff issues. Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, we did discuss these issues. I would not say that they were the main focus of our talks, but we did spend considerable time looking at our work together in the energy sector as part of our discussions on our economic cooperation. This goes for our energy supplies to Belarus itself and transport of energy resources for Western Europe through Belarus. We agreed that our suppliers would keep to an agreement amongst themselves that entails the following provisions. The economic actors concerned have agreed that Gazprom will maintain prices for gas supplies to Belarus in 2006 at this year’s level. In return, Gazprom’s Belarusian partners will do all they can to ensure Gazprom’s operations on Belarusian territory. This means, above all, organising work on delivering gas to export markets. What we are talking about here is helping Gazprom obtain the relevant rights to land for building gas pumping stations, renting the land crossed by pipelines and a few other forms of administrative and economic assistance to help Gazprom carry out its export plans. This agreement has been reached between the economic actors involved and we can state that we will support it.