Question: What agreements have you reached today? And my second question: If the Treaty on the Establishment of the Union State comes into effect only today, does this mean that the practical agreements and deadlines stipulated in the programme for its implementation will be automatically postponed, and that the programme will not be fulfilled as initially planned?
Alexander Lukashenko: I will begin with your second question, about the treaty and the programme. I want you to have a clear legal understanding that the treaty and the programme constitute a single whole. Most importantly, it is a comprehensive legal normative act that became effective upon its ratification by our parliaments. We exchanged ratification documents immediately afterwards, which made the bill a law for both countries.
Vladimir Putin: Before answering this question, I would like to congratulate Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on his decision. He was made an offer, which he accepted, to head the Supreme State Council of the Union State. Let us congratulate him now. So much for the first thing.
Second, we have made one more organisational decision: Mikhail Kasyanov will head the Cabinet of Ministers of the Union State. Pavel Borodin has been appointed state secretary of the Union State. So, I am informing you of these decisions.
Today we met with the president of Belarus not only in the Supreme State Council, but also before the joint meeting. We spent nearly an hour discussing bilateral affairs and the development of integration processes under way [in our countries.] Here is my answer to your question about practical decisions: we have made them, and they concern mainly economic matters.
We have also made decisions on the speed of our integration. We have agreed to hold elections to the Union Parliament very soon, this autumn. We believe that the development of a legal foundation for our cooperation and movement towards each other is a key element of integration. We have confirmed this at the meeting of the Supreme State Council. We will try to hold these elections in Russia simultaneously with elections in Belarus.
We have also agreed on several other important issues, such as the strengthening of the common economic space. There are many related segments, which concern primarily the customs policy and everything related to it. We will promote the process initiated by the first president of Russia and the president of Belarus. You know that we have joint checkpoints on the border manned by our border guards. However, it does not matter very much who works there. The main thing is that we will work according to common rules, that we have a common view and will take joint measures aimed at developing the process.
And lastly, you seemed worried that our relations may stall. I can assure you that this will not happen. To prevent stalling, the Union Treaty stipulates a special clause, according to which the bodies set up before the establishment of the management bodies of the Union State will not stop working. The Secretariat is working, and the parliamentary structures will continue working until the election of the Union Parliament. So there are no reasons to worry.
Question: Russia and Belarus have different approaches to a market economy. How can their economies be integrated in this situation?
Alexander Lukashenko: Of course, if we have decided to unite and build a common state, we should standardize things as much as possible. But I want to draw your attention to two things. You know that Russia is a big country. It is huge, and so methods of reform and privatisation in it can differ [from region to region]. For example, the Krasnodar Region differs from the Yamalo-Nenets Region or the Tyumen Region. Don’t you think there are differences in how reforms are implemented, in their speed and individual elements in Russia?
Vladimir Putin: I want to add a few things. First, I certainly agree with the Belarusian president on the issue of differences in the speed of and conditions for reforms. There is nothing strange in that, and I would not dramatise it. It is a fact we must accept.
I think it was Montferrand who said that great deeds must be done without haste. This is why we have a programme of steps we must take to attain the goals of integration, a programme that took a long time to design.
Now I would like to return to the first question. The development of legislation is of crucial importance, and this is why I started with it.
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Alexander Lukashenko: We must act in the interests of our peoples and states. I said: “Mr Putin, any city or village in Belarus is open to you any time of day or night.” This is how it should be. We must not hide from each other, or fear each other.
Mr Putin said: “Now you, as chairman of the Supreme State Council, must do everything that would benefit our states.” I fully accept this stance of the acting president of Russia.
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Vladimir Putin: A question has been asked about different speeds of implementing reforms. But I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have many things in common. You have Sovetskaya Belarussiya [newspaper], while we have Sovetskaya Rossiya.
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Question: You said the Union State is open to anyone who respects its principles. Can there be a third party?
Vladimir Putin: Are you suggesting a jolly threesome?
Question: Well, a fourth party may soon join in.
Vladimir Putin: You know, it is not a coincidence that we are holding this meeting immediately after the CIS summit. We have received other proposals, too. Alexander Lukashenko shares my opinion that we should meet immediately after the summit, and separately. By holding our meeting after the summit, we showed to everyone that they were welcome. I am referring to any state that shares the goals and principles laid out in our charter documents.
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Vladimir Putin: During bilateral consultations with some CIS presidents, we spoke about a deeper level of cooperation with some states. This does not mean that they will or should join the Union of Russia and Belarus, but it points to a desire on the part of many states to make integration in the post-Soviet space deeper, more concrete and practical. This does not imply infringing on anyone’s sovereignty. This is not an issue. The issue on the agenda is above all economic integration. This would create a reliable basis for the development of other processes without infringing on anyone’s sovereignty, but with the purpose of promoting our good achievements and using them to facilitate integration to benefit those states that have shown interest in it. Let me say again, there are such states.