President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko,
As we agreed the last time we met, we are meeting after our governments have worked out certain ideas, primarily economic ones. High-level commissions are also working on these matters.
I would like to begin our meeting by saying that overall, the Republic of Belarus – I am not referring to our plans for the further development of the Union State – remains our major and reliable partner in the economy. It is notable that last year our mutual trade, as we mentioned before, went down a little because of the coronavirus, by about 17 percent. During the first four or five months of this year, it has increased considerably, by over 37 percent. This is a good indicator.
It should be noted that the Republic of Belarus is servicing all its loans, despite the coronavirus and any other “infections,” including those connected with external challenges. Moreover, the Government has just now reported that the foreign debt of the Republic of Belarus has decreased by 2.5 percent or $0.5 billion, which means that Belarus is a reliable and stable partner in this sphere. Its gold and foreign currency reserves are considerably larger than is necessary for serving foreign trade transactions.
For some reasons, your agriculture slightly declined, by a little more than one percent, probably because of the COVID pandemic, whereas industrial production has increased by over 16 percent. This is a very good indicator, considering our reliable industrial cooperation. I hope that our industrial ties, which we have had since the Soviet era and which we have been developing during the past years, is having a positive impact on the economy of both Russia and Belarus.
Today, during the meeting, we can sum up certain results of what has been produced by the Government and look into what further directions and how we should take. The Government, as I said, reported yesterday and today I was still reading references in the morning.
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Thank you, Mr Putin.
I see you are delving into the economy of Belarus and the figures you have mentioned are absolutely correct. It is gratifying that our trade is growing in spite of all those, you must have been embarrassed to say, all those “viruses,” as you said, from the outside in relation of Belarus and Russia.
You were right after all, I did not quite believe this, that it will turn out this way, that any sanctions mean opportunities and that Russia, since it first faced the so-called sanctions (you can’t word it differently), you have carried out a hefty import substitution programme, particularly in agriculture. Now, two or three years on, this is obvious, this is an obvious fact.
As is only natural, our economy has powerful links with the Russian economy. If you recall and, of course, you do, we preserved many cooperative relations with Russia and did not follow the same path as other republics, particularly the republic to our south. We have not severed our ties. For this reason, we have preserved all our industries and even built up our capacities in some sectors, this is also thanks to the Russian Federation’s investment.
Indeed, financially, we were always hard pressed, and you know why. Russia was helping us a lot in this regard as well. And we are reverently trying to perform our loan obligations, I mean loans that have been issued, and we will deliver on our commitments regardless of the cost.
After we faced another wave of sanctions, the fourth or the fifth, I have lost count now, we are, in fact, diversifying. Today you clearly see our relations with the “collective West:” We had insignificant trade with them, particularly with the European Union. They have introduced sanctions against MAZ and BelAZ, but the trade these enterprises conducted with the European Union amounted to, how much, do you think? To $3.3 million in one case and $4 million in another. For this reason, we are working on our markets, as we did from time immemorial, one can say. Thanks to the fact that we have not cut off these ties, we are managing, at this difficult time, to push the economy up.
The problem is not only, as you very rightly pointed out, the “viruses” from the outside, those sanctions, the problem is that the global economy has declined a great deal. You noted that during your Direct Line. But we will survive all those pricing attacks. (Of course, all countries are susceptible to this, even China is witnessing what they see as unprecedented inflation.)
To be continued.