On results of Russian-Belarusian negotiations on energy cooperation
Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen!
First of all, I would like to thank the government for the results achieved in the talks with our Belarusian colleagues. We have reached compromise decisions, which are acceptable for both sides.
I would like to note that the main result of these talks is transition to market relations with our Belarusian partners, primarily, in the energy sphere. I think the experts understand that this is a mild transition. It is suitable for our partners, and will take place over a period of several years. But the transition to new principles in building these relations has been sealed in the documents, and this is the main point.
Russia will continue supporting the Belarusian economy directly or indirectly for a long time to come, although it will considerably reduce this assistance beginning this year.
As for the figures, as far as gas is concerned, this support will amount to about $3.3 billion, and for oil and oil products, $2.5 billion. The second figure is precise, and has been accepted by Belarus.
Thus, Russia’s support for the Belarusian economy in 2007 will run into $5.8 billion in energy sources alone.
In the estimates of our Ministry of Finance, the entire budget of Belarus is about $14 billion. This means that our assistance accounts for about 41% of this sum. I am sure you will agree that this is a big amount. But let me repeat once again that this is the price Russia is prepared to pay for a smooth and friendly transition to market relations; this is Russia’s assistance to the Belarusian people.
I would like to thank all those who took part in this difficult work. Let’s adopt a serious and mature approach to this matter, without undue excitement and emotions. We should seek the implementation of the achieved agreements in the same manner as we conducted the talks.
Now I would like to address other current issues.
On a programme of resettlement for compatriots residing abroad
Vladimir Putin (addressing Alexander Zhukov): Mr. Zhukov, the government is working on a resolution on the resettlement of compatriots. The preparation of the relevant documents is progressing well, and the law on the budget provides for expenses to this end in 2007. Could you please say a few words on this issue?
Alexander Zhukov: The government has prepared two resolutions in line with the federal programme on voluntary resettlement of compatriots residing abroad, which you have endorsed. I believe these resolutions will be passed today.
The first concerns payment of one-time allowance to programme participants. Under the draft resolution, a settler will receive 60,000 rubles and his family members up to 20,000 rubles each. This applies to our compatriots who would settle in the A category territory, in strategically important border areas. The B category covers those areas that are short of manpower and where major investment projects will be carried out. Those who move there will receive 40,000 rubles plus 15,000 rubles for each family member.
The second resolution provides for monthly compensation to those participants in the federal programme who do not have any incomes from work, business or other activities, that is, those who have arrived recently and have not yet found a job. During a period of six months, they will receive a monthly allowance of 50% from the subsistence minimum established on the given territory, that is a particular region of the Russian Federation. These payments only apply to A category, the strategically important border areas. We believe these resolutions will considerably facilitate the implementation of the government programme for resettlement of compatriots.
Putin: Well done. I would like to remind you of the principles by which we should be guided in this work. We should not force our compatriots into coming to Russia. We should not encourage the flow of Russian-speaking population from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We should create favorable conditions for those who want to come back. We should let people make their own well thought-out choices as to where they and their children want to live. At the same time, we should continue promoting integration on post-Soviet territory. In this context, we are primarily interested in market-based economic integration, and the consolidation of such institutions as EurAsEC and the customs union. The new conditions and approach should allow us to do it more effectively.
We have fully realized that a situation where we cannot even calculate the scale of hidden support for these or other states does not encourage the processes of integration. Quite the contrary, it destroys the integration space. It is only when relations become clear, when they can be fixed on paper and calculated easily that we can achieve a situation where relations will be just and equitable. This is very important. I would like to ask the government’s economic bloc not to forget about this direction of our work. Experts from the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, who are conducting the talks, have a great deal to do to this end.
On reducing the term of conscript service with the Russian Army
Vladimir Putin (addressing Sergei Ivanov): Last fall marked the end of the two-year long draft to the armed forces. This year, the draft’s term will be a year and a half, and beginning with 2008 it will be one year. What could you say about this year’s draft? This is my first question.
The second is what is being done to revive the plans of pre-draft training, primarily, ROSTO (DOSAAF)? We have discussed the need to restore this system.
And what is the situation with the public control over the armed forces?
Sergei Ivanov: Mr. Putin, we have successfully completed the fall draft. All in all, 123,310 people have been called up; 99,000 of them are with the armed forces as such, while the rest have been sent to other force structures, such as the border and interior troops, etc.
The draft was well organized. I would like to note that for the first time in many years, the share of recruits with higher education has increased – they account for 16.7% of all draftees. This number is much higher than it was several years ago. There are fewer recruits with criminal records, or with a criminal past.
As you have said, this is the last two-year draft; 2007 will be a transition year with the spring and fall drafts for a year and a half, and in 2008 the army service will last one year.
The two-year draft was introduced in the Soviet armed forces in 1967. In other words, it existed for 40 years, and now it is over.
This change has been made possible by a comprehensive programme for the transition of some armed forces units to contract recruitment. In other words, a reduction in the army service will not affect our combat readiness. We have taken this step because we realize that it will consolidate the combat readiness of our armed forces on the one hand, and allows us not to recruit young people to the army service for two years, which is a long span of time.