Beginning of Meeting of the Russian and Belarusian Union State Supreme State Council 2007-12-14 18:30:03 Minsk Alexander Lukashenko: Delegates and friends, First of all, allow me to congratulate our colleague and friend Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin on the United Russia political party’s confident victory in the election to the State Duma. This party’s election victory on December 2, 2007, bears witness to the support for your policies aimed at strengthening Russian statehood and raising Russia’s authority on the international stage. We are especially pleased that your first visit abroad following this referendum is to our country. We see this as a symbol of your commitment to the idea of unity between our countries and an assessment of the importance of Russian-Belarusian relations. For my part, I want to say once again that Belarus always sees Russia as its main strategic partner. Ample illustration of the mutual benefits of Russian-Belarusian cooperation can be seen in the steady rise in our bilateral trade, which is set to reach a record level in 2007 with a total of more than $24 billion. Our country with its modest natural resources and small population is one of Russia’s leading trade partners along with world industrial giants such as the United States, China and Germany. This growth is evidence that real cooperation is increasing in industry, science and technology and relations between the regions. In our intergovernmental relations we have reached a high point of integration in which both sides work together to plan common action and make a conscious choice to hand over certain national powers in the interests of reaching common objectives. It is in this direction that the Supreme Council and the Union State’s other organisations are working. The issues of ensuring equal rights for our citizens, upholding social guarantees in employment, pension provision and the right to medical assistance and education are all matters of central importance for the Union State’s organisations. We support the idea of common conditions for economic actors. At the same time, the reality of life today sets us another objective, that of ensuring a better level of cooperation on the international stage, not only standing together against new threats and challenges in the world but also consolidating our foreign policy influence and building up our common economic potential. Belarus is ready to play its part regarding the question of plans to deploy elements of a U.S. missile defence system in Europe. We will work in close coordination with Russia on the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. I am sure that the level of cooperation we have reached will enable us to find effective solutions to this and many other issues that we face today. Members of the Supreme State Council, we are genuinely pleased that today’s session is taking place in Belarus. I am confident that your decisions will give new impetus to our common work on building the Union State. Since the last session took place, a number of issues have accumulated that call for joint discussion and decisions on optimum means to resolve priority matters. Today’s agenda is a clear illustration of this situation. We need to examine important issues regarding our work together on building the Union State, among them, the Union State’s draft budget for 2008, which has increased by almost 10 percent and now comes to more than 4 billion Russian roubles. Projected budget expenditure covers areas such as industry, the energy sector, construction, military-technical cooperation, law enforcement activity, ensuring the Union State’s security, social policy and more. The budget will provide funding for 38 programmes, sub-programmes and events. Implementation of the programme for coordinated action in foreign policy and trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia in 2006 and the first half of 2007 was particularly important. This work was set out in the treaty on the creation of the Union State, the provisions of which form the foundation for our cooperation and remain relevant today. We are to examine the state of progress in implementing Supreme State Council decisions, a number of organisational and personnel matters and issues regarding the award of prizes and the chairmanship and co-chairmanship of the Border Committee. Delegates, I have made a brief outline of today’s agenda by way of introductory remarks, and I would now like to give the floor to my colleague, President of Russia Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Vladimir Putin: Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko], colleagues, Today we will be reviewing the results of the year’s work and outlining the directions for continued integration and cooperation between Russia and Belarus. Our basic position is that the main criteria for measuring the results of our work together is improvement in the lives of Russian and Belarusian citizens, the people of our countries. This is the objective yardstick we will continue to use as our reference in the future. The measures we are taking aim at further strengthening the economic foundation of our relations. This was the main set of issues regarding bilateral relations discussed during today’s meeting with the Belarusian President. In this respect I think it is important that the Supreme State Council concentrate its attention on making pragmatic decisions tailored as best as possible to respond to the specific tasks before us. One of the clearest indicators of active and effective economic relations is the positive growth in our bilateral trade. Alexander Grigoryevich has already mentioned the figures and they are indeed impressive: we have achieved an increase of more than 25 percent. The Union State’s budget is becoming increasingly important as an instrument for cooperation. Of course, it is important that we act promptly to settle the question of the 2008 budget in accordance with the planned parameters. The planned increase in expenditure and the changes proposed for budget formation and use will enable us to implement the Union State’s cooperation programmes more effectively. Continued work to develop foreign policy cooperation between Russia and Belarus is also one of the important items on our agenda. Cooperation in this area is already progressing well through the Programme for Coordinated Foreign Policy Work. We now need to review the state of progress in this programme’s implementation and organise the drafting of a programme for 2008–2009. Other items on the agenda include approving the candidacies of chairman and co-chairman of the Union State Border Committee. We also need to decide on awarding the 2007–2008 Union State Prize in Literature and the Arts recognising the contribution to the spiritual unity of the Russian and Belarusian peoples. These are the main outlines of the Supreme State Council’s work today. I hope that in our work on the agenda today we will be united in our desire to take more energetic steps in the interests of creating a common economic space and fully fledged customs union and removing the trade barriers that still remain. We examined these issues in considerable detail during our talks in narrow format today. To make progress in these directions we need to make active use of the experience and practice we have already built up, adapting them to today’s global economic situation. This approach will enable us to take relations within the Union State to a new level and considerably strengthen the economic ties between our countries, creating new possibilities for reaching our social and economic development goals. Thank you very much.