A Decree of the Supreme State Council of the Union State that sets forth the Guidelines for Implementing the Provisions of the Treaty Establishing the Union State in 2021–2023, which includes 28 industry-based Union programmes, was signed as part of the meeting. The parties approved the Union State’s Military Doctrine and the Migration Policy Concept, as well as a resolution On Awarding the 2021 Union State Prize in Science and Technology. Also, they summed up the results of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Belarus in 2020 and in January-June 2021 and reviewed the progress in implementing the decisions previously adopted by the Supreme State Council.
The two countries’ prime ministers, Mikhail Mishustin and Roman Golovchenko, as well as State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev delivered reports on the issues on the agenda.
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Excerpts from the transcript of the Meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Friends,
Allow me to welcome you to the Meeting of the Supreme State Council.
We have just had a telephone conversation with the President of Russia, and we have already exchanged greetings.
I would like to welcome all members of the Supreme State Council to our meeting.
Today, Russia is celebrating a wonderful holiday, National Unity Day, and I would like on behalf of all Belarusian people to congratulate you, Mr President, in connection with the events you are holding in Crimea, and also to extend my greetings to all members of the Supreme State Council and all Russians on this wonderful holiday.
I would also like to make a request to my good friend and colleague: Mr Putin, if you have the opportunity, at least via Crimea’s leadership, would you please pass on the most sincere greetings from Belarusians to Crimea’s residents and wish them good health and courage amidst these difficult times. They must understand that they are not alone, we stand next to each other and will support and help each other during this challenging period.
Dmitry Mezentsev and his colleagues have made high-quality preparations for this Meeting of the Supreme State Council. If you do not mind, we could start and complete the meeting quite quickly. It is not only well prepared, there are the meeting materials, documents and issues that have been repeatedly handled by the two presidents over the past three years. I remember that Mr Putin proposed many issues for consideration back in winter, in Sochi. Over the past three years, we have addressed 18 major issues and considered them at meetings of the Council of Ministers of the Union State; today we will sign corresponding documents that are required for the approval and entry into force of Union State laws.
Mr President, in line with tradition, I would like to say a few words, then you will make a speech, and we will start working according to plan.
Mr President, members of the Supreme State Council, meeting participants,
We all are pleased to see each other in good health – which is particularly relevant today. Allow me, as the chairman, to declare this meeting open.
Regrettably, various challenges and threats for Belarus and Russia, aggravated by the ongoing global pandemic, have disrupted the schedule of our regular contacts. For Belarus, the Union State is the utmost priority. Jointly, we have established a unique integration model that ensures equal rights for Belarusian and Russian people and increases our economic interaction. We actively cooperate in various areas, aim at further expanding the union integration, and protect our brotherly nations’ common historical and ethical values.
The unprecedented external pressure has become a serious test of the strength of relations between our countries – and we can definitely say we have withstood this test. Moreover, we have become stronger.
This is demonstrated by the economic statistics. In the first nine months of this year, the union’s trade increased by over one-third reaching $28 billion in this difficult time.
Our foreign policy cooperation is extensive; Belarus and Russia have a common stance on all current issues at various international platforms.
I should also note our close cooperation in the defence industry. As the latest events have demonstrated, the Union State’s Regional Forces Group serves as a stable security shield for both our countries and for the entire post-Soviet space. Mr Putin and I are open about our intentions to reinforce this group in the future.
A particular topic of the union’s development is the work to solve social issues and protect citizens’ interests. We have achieved the most impressive results in pursuing a coordinated social policy that ensures a dignified life and free development for the people. Citizens of our countries have equal rights in labour, recreation, healthcare, and education.
Yet, life is ever-changing, and all of us recognise the necessity to advance further in building our union state and to ensure the protection of Russia’s and Belarus’ interests in the global space.
We persistently and steadily improve our internal public processes. Just recently, the Russian Federation has implemented a constitutional reform and outlined ambitious plans for reform and development. Belarus is going to follow suit and implement constitutional reform. I think we will hold the corresponding referendum and adopt the new Constitution in February. This will serve as a basis for our advancement and stable progress.
In 2019, together with President Putin, we set a common task for the two countries’ governments to assess the outcome of union integration and define steps for its further progress. Today, we are adopting a report on the practical work done. The documents have been approved by the Council of Ministers of the Union State and require approval by the Supreme State Council, at its meeting today.
After that, the two countries’ governments will have to take measures on implementing a wide range of conceptual solutions within the next two years. Actually, we are starting the reset of our joint economic space. These efforts include the introduction of advanced technologies, styles and methods of decision-making. This should result in the creation of a new environment for goods and services’ turnover, the establishment of joint industry markets, and pursuing common financial, tax, lending, industrial and other policies. We should take the cooperation between our government authorities to the next level and set the task of solving issues related to bilateral relations as a priority, with due account for mutual interests.
Yet, I would like to caution the governments from delving into excessive theory; we should see the practical results of our decisions almost right away. I am speaking about the implementation of our major joint projects. We already have positive examples; they have been repeatedly discussed at the level of heads of state – particularly, those in nuclear energy and space exploration. We also have specific agreements on other promising areas of joint work, which we have repeatedly discussed with the President, as I have mentioned. These include a project on manned space exploration, which implies creating a new Earth remote sensing system that produces ultra-high-resolution imaging; and a project in microelectronics where we agreed to do expansive work to develop and build an electronic component database. I would ask the Permanent Committee of the Union State and personally Mr Mezentsev to keep a close watch on all these issues. All the agreements of the presidents on such important and prospective areas must be formalised through a corresponding resolution by the union’s authorities.
Dear meeting participants,
I am confident that the decisions we are adopting today demonstrate once again the immense potential for further development of our unification. We have a lot of work to do – but I am sure we will accomplish all the set tasks in full to the benefit of our countries and peoples, which is in line with the goals and principles of building the union state.
Thank you for your attention. Mr President, I would like to ask you to speak on these issues on the agenda.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko, friends,
The meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State we are holding today is, without exaggeration, truly important. We will be adopting a series of documents for further promoting and enhancing the economic, political and military integration of Russia and Belarus.
It is symbolic that this meeting is taking place on a special day for Russia – National Unity Day. Mr Lukashenko, thank you very much for your congratulations. This holiday symbolises the sincere and deep love of our Motherland, as well as the triumphant spirit of unity that has been passed on from one generation to another for many centuries.
In this regard, Russia and Belarus have much in common. We share the bond of centuries-old brotherly friendship, a shared past, spiritual and moral values, and quite often, family ties. In all times, our peoples have assisted one another in their hour of need. Together, we have defended freedom and independence, fought shoulder to shoulder against external enemies, and worked hand in hand to ensure the wellbeing and prosperity of our peoples.
I have said this on many occasions, but still I would like to reiterate that for Russia, Belarus is not just a good neighbour and our closest ally, with whom we have built a relationship of mutual respect and support, seeking to take into account each other’s interests, but also a truly brotherly Republic, a brotherly people. Making sure that it stays this way forever is our unwavering commitment.
Since the citizens of our countries want unity, 25 years ago Russia and Belarus embarked on a journey to establish a political and economic integration structure, the Union State. Over the past quarter of a century, we have accomplished a great deal together for our common economic space.
Our countries’ economies are closely intertwined and deeply interconnected. Russia is the main business partner for Belarus and accounts for almost one half of Belarus’ foreign trade. We rank first in terms of direct investment in the Belarusian economy, that’s about US$4 billion. Some 2,400 Russian companies operate in Belarus. In turn, Belarus is Russia’s number one trading partner within the CIS and ranks fourth among all our foreign trade partners with a share close to 5 percent.
Even during the coronavirus pandemic, as the President of Belarus has just mentioned, there has been some positive momentum in our bilateral economic cooperation. In particular, according to the data we have, in the first eight months of 2021 bilateral trade increased by almost 36 percent to US$24 billion, while Mr Lukashenko has data for the first nine months: the numbers could be approaching US$28 billion, which is a very robust result.
Multifaceted sectoral ties and industrial cooperation between Russia and Belarus are also picking up steam with new shared value chains and a growing common transport infrastructure. We are carrying out high-tech, research-intensive projects, including the construction of a nuclear power station in Belarus – the first unit was launched this year.
I would like to remind you about the proposal put forward by Belarus; the President of Belarus also mentioned this in his remarks. It deals with adding a Belarusian cosmonaut to the International Space Station crew. Yesterday, we discussed this with Roscosmos executives in Sochi. We are ready to support this proposal and to carry it out soon. We need to agree on some aspects, but these are not challenging matters, so I am sure we will resolve them.
As for integration, we will not rest on our laurels. The President of Belarus said we would be approving a comprehensive and far-reaching document today: the Guidelines for Implementing the Provisions of the Treaty Establishing the Union State for 2021–2023. This is the fruit of lengthy, intensive, and sometimes challenging talks between our governments and corresponding agencies. Mr Lukashenko and I kept a close eye on the progress of these talks.
This document covers 28 sectoral Union programmes designed to promote a coordinated macroeconomic strategy, introduce unified taxation principles, which is extremely important, implement a common policy in the credit and financial and banking sectors, in industry and agriculture, harmonise regulations for the unified oil, gas and electric power markets and for transport services.
By the way, I have just mentioned the oil and gas markets. We keep a close eye on these matters since they are very important and often cause controversy and heated debate. Nevertheless, even in this sphere we have achieved serious progress. You are probably aware of what has been going on in the global oil and gas markets. Today, Belarus receives natural gas from Russia at a price that is seven or eight times, and at certain points, nine or ten times lower than the European spot markets. Even if we are talking about gas supplies to our consumers under Gazprom’s long-term contracts and make a comparison with them, the price Belarus pays is still three or four times lower. This concerns the people of Belarus and the households there that get energy at the lowest possible price. This also benefits the entire Belarusian economy and its industry, placing it in a favourable competitive environment, which facilitates its development.
By carrying out these sectoral integration programmes, Russia and Belarus can create an equal and unified business environment. The two economies will follow common rules and standards, which creates new, truly broad opportunities to promote their progress and will benefit all sectors without exception.
Of course, full economic integration would be impossible without progress on establishing a single migration and visa space. It is essential that we fully deliver on the promise of unimpeded labour mobility and guarantee our citizens the freedom of movement while taking into consideration all associated security risks. This is the purpose of the Union State Migration Policy Concept as drafted by our governments. A lot has been done on this front as well.
Building the Union State is not just about intertwined economies, but also about coordinating our efforts in other spheres, including political and defence matters. The President of Belarus has mentioned this as well. In this regard, it is essential that we facilitate close ties between Russian and Belarusian ministries and agencies. Of course, the role of the Permanent Committee of the Union State will be growing.
Creating an atmosphere of stability and security along our external borders has special importance in this context. We will work together to counter any attempts to interfere in the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Make no mistake, Russia will continue supporting the brotherly people of Belarus.
The Union State will make meaningful progress in promoting integration. At the end of the day, this will improve the standard of living and wellbeing of our people. Of course, we will keep up our targeted efforts to give new significance to the Union State and fully unlock its creative potential.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I am indeed in Sevastopol today to mark National Unity Day as well as to attend the unveiling of this monument. It is a great statue I think, and I recommend everyone to see it. And the story itself is quite exciting, I mean the people depicted – the Berens twin brothers as far as I know – looking so valiant and handsome. One of them joined the ‘red’ side and commanded the navy in the Russian Federation, and the other – the White Movement naval forces. Both were admirals, and they never saw each other again after one of them emigrated from Russia. Both died without ever seeing each other again. It is an interesting story, and I hope that this symbolism – the twins, two naval commanders standing side by side on this pedestal – truly reflects a return to the unity of the multiethnic Russian nation.
We will always be happy to see you here so you can see it.
If I may, Mr President, a few words about today's agenda.
Like yourself, I too would like to thank our governments for the work done. It was a complex and multi-vector effort. But there is something else I would like to say in this regard. Colleagues, we are well aware that today, with the recent economic losses and challenges in the social sphere caused by the coronavirus, one of the most effective tools for overcoming this crisis is to combine efforts with countries located close to each other. Countries that are neighbours are opting for cooperation, directing joint efforts towards the economy in general or towards specific industries, and looking for solutions through integration, among other possibilities. This is happening all over the world; I would like to emphasise this. You are well aware that this is happening across the globe – in Southeast Asia, in Africa, South America, Central and North America – everywhere, certainly including Europe.
Unfortunately, the post-Soviet countries are lagging behind in many areas of such integration. We are not making full use of the opportunities, the competitive advantages we have inherited from the Soviet Union. I am referring to the common infrastructure, the common energy grid, and the Russian language, which has a unifying power and helps us communicate with each other.
However, we have made good progress in developing the Union State, advancing further than on other tracks. Incidentally, such uneven integration is seen in almost all integration associations, to one degree or another. There is nothing unusual here.
And the fact that we have made progress, as the President of Belarus said today, is setting a good example to our partners, in the EAEU as well as in other post-Soviet platforms.
We certainly hope that the agreements reached by our governments in the previous period, the ones we have formalised today by signing the document we have gathered here to discuss, will be a major step forward, absolutely unrelated to any of our countries’ internal political agendas. It simply reflects the need for our economies to function effectively and create competitive advantages in order to improve the efficiency of our work, which ultimately aims to improve our citizens’ living standards.
Mr President, I would like to thank you for having kept this process under constant review, for your part. And to all our colleagues as well, thank you very much.