Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
We are ready to brief you on the results of our work. I would like to thank the President of Belarus for agreeing to come to Moscow for consultations on bilateral relations and on our interaction in international affairs.
We have talked a great deal about practically the entire agenda of our relations, we have talked about the problems of the economy, we discussed energy, the relations connected with customs rules and relations in that sphere.
Of course, we spoke about the process of moving closer together within the framework of the integration processes between Russia and Belarus and we have scheduled our meetings, both personal and summit meetings, and meetings of the heads of our governments. We spoke of the need to hold a meeting of the Council of Heads of State of Russia and Belarus late this year or early next year. This is the range of issues we have discussed. If you have any questions we would be glad to answer them.
Alexander Lukashenko: I would like to thank you for the attention you have paid not only today to our delegation (members of the Government are with me and they have worked for two days and nights with the Government of the Russian Federation). First of all, I would like to thank you and the Russian Government for preparing a large list of economic problems within the space of two days, the problems that we have been discussing with you. It is a whole range of issues, some of which have been reported in the media and some have not, but need to be discussed.
I am very pleased with today’s meeting. It moved us forward not only in understanding certain problems in Belarusian-Russian relations, it moved us toward practical implementation of the problems that face us.
We have discussed the situation in the world. I am grateful to the Russian President for briefing me on the latest talks in Europe and with the United States. We support the efforts of the Russian Federation in Europe and in Russian-American relations. I am also grateful to Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) for the information he gave me about Russia’s bilateral actions within the CIS. We discussed that spectrum of our relations.
So, we gave another impetus to the international aspects of the foreign policies of our countries and to the economic problems which had been previously discussed with the Government of the Russian Federation, and to our political relations.
The main thing, as Vladimir Vladimirovich has said, is that we have agreed on our short-term actions, on how we will work in the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union and in the framework of the Belarusian and Russian governments. On December 11 or 10 the Russian Government will meet to discuss economic issues and the fuel and energy issues. It is of interest to us and we will attend that meeting with the consent of the Russian side. Immediately after December 11 there will be a session of the Government of the Union State. And then we will agree together on the date of the Supreme State Council meeting to endorse the budget and other actions for 2003 and for the longer term.
Question: What needs to be done to establish cooperation on foreign policy and what measures should be taken to further promote economic cooperation between Russia and Belarus?
Vladimir Putin: As regards coordinating actions in the sphere of international relations, we fully agree with this approach and we took time to discuss it today. I have asked our Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, to join us for that part of our talk. We said that the actions of Russia and Belarus must be coordinated and must meet our national interests. As regards the economy, it took up 80% of our time. We are satisfied with the way Belarus is handling these issues. We had certain agreements on coordinating actions in the customs sphere, and both Russia and Belarus have done a lot. We have certain agreements on interaction in the energy sphere. We know that the Belarusian parliament has recently passed a law that gives the green light to the implementation of earlier basic agreements in this sphere, and that is also a cause for optimism and for hope that these processes will be completed. In general, in spite of the arguments – and we have had some arguments, and they are well known – I would like to confirm that there is obvious positive progress.
Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus is grateful to the Russian Federation for the support on foreign policy issues it gives us everywhere. We are aware of that support.
We have a plan for coordinating our foreign policy efforts approved by the Supreme State Council of the Union State, and we are adhering to it. At least neither our side, nor the Russian side have any complaints been voiced regarding the implementation of that plan. We have agreed to continue to tie in our foreign policy plans closely.
As for the economy, it is true that we devoted 80% of the time to economic issues. I have just said that we will take an active part in the meeting of the Russian Government on the problems that are of concern to us. The Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State will hold a meeting to take the final decisions on all the economic issues we have discussed.
We have also discussed the participation of Russian capital in our enterprises. There are some questions to be answered and Vladimir Vladimirovich has promised to look at them, for example, on the issue of creating joint stock companies. Not everything depends on us. For example, a company would like to buy into an oil refinery, but the quotas for the supply of Russian oil to that facility are tiny, so the project turns out to be loss-making. Vladimir Vladimirovich has promised to look into it. He believes it need not be an obstacle.
We discussed many questions. And I would like to stress what was the main problem for us: the Russian Federation recently passed a law on the status of foreigners, stateless persons and so on whereby Belarusians were to be treated as foreigners. But knowing that problem Vladimir Vladimirovich said: no, we have an agreement with Belarus, an interstate agreement which prevails over internal legislation. So Belarusians are not covered by it. To me it was the most important statement, as indeed it was for Russians and Belarusians. Under that law Belarusians are not foreigners in the Russian Federation. These are very important things. I think the authorities in the Russian Federation and in my country will act accordingly.
Vladimir Putin: I confirm that.
Question: Have you managed to resolve the recent problems, especially in the gas sphere? And another question: do you see eye-to-eye on the fundamental problems of building the Union State or do you still have differences?
Vladimir Putin: As regards gas, naturally we discussed it at length and, as my counterpart has said, we will discuss it at a meeting of the Russian Government. It is an open discussion connected with the energy mix in the Russian economy. Of course we will take into account the interests of our Belarusian colleagues. The discussion continues, but it is proceeding in an absolutely business-like tone.
The second question is about the building of the Union State. We see eye-to-eye on the most fundamental issue, which is that these processes must continue. Number one. Number two: we have agreed to intensify these processes by working on the Constitution of the Union State. We have agreed to upgrade the status of that commission and we will determine who will be on this commission on both sides by the end of the week.
Alexander Lukashenko: As regards the gas problems as they have been reported, we have not discussed the issue because it has been closed. At my initiative we discussed the issue from a different angle. I raised the issue of the quantities of gas supplies next year and it will be taken into account in the fuel and energy balance of the Russian Federation which will be discussed at the Government meeting in a few days’ time, in which we, Belarusian representatives, will take part. We hope to be able to settle the matter there. Yes, I have asked the Russian President for his support on the issue of the volume of supplies. He will order the Government to look into these issues, to look into the gas problems.
In general, I don’t think there will be any problems regarding the supply of gas in the amounts that Belarus needs for 2003 because there are many suppliers who are ready to supply gas and with whom we are ready to cooperate.
Regarding our progress within the Union State and the approaches, you know, I agree with Vladimir Vladimirovich: we have worked intensively on this and I think the work will pick up even more after the composition of the new joint commission on finalising the Constitutional Act is approved. A lot of material has been prepared. In principle, I don’t think we should have any problems. We have the fundamental document on which we are working and will continue working.
Vladimir Putin: I can merely add that we are well aware of the needs of the Belarusian economy for energy and gas. I can say with full responsibility that these needs will be met by supplies from Russia. As for the price and the terms, that is a commercial issue and we do not discuss them with the President.
Question: Mr Lukashenko, how do you see the development of relations between Belarus and the OSCE?
Alexander Lukashenko: Luckily, our positions coincide. The Russian Federation is currently negotiating with the OSCE because the OSCE group’s mandate in Russia has expired. We are prepared to talk with the OSCE (just like Russia is) to frame the mandate of the OSCE group in Belarus and determine the time frame of that group’s work. We are ready to sit down and have a dialogue. Only, we don’t want any pressure, any prodding. We are a sovereign independent state. We have our national interests and we would like our national interests to be taken into account even though that may involve compromises.