The meeting’s agenda included a review of the progress on the Guidelines for Implementing the Provisions of the Treaty Establishing the Union State in 2021–2023, a document that envisages joint work under 28 sectoral Union programmes.
The participants on the Russian side included members of the Supreme State Council – President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union State Mikhail Mishustin, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko and State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.
The attending Belarusian members of the Supreme State Council included President of the Republic of Belarus – Chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union State Alexander Lukashenko, Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus Roman Golovchenko, Speaker of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Natalya Kochanova and Speaker of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vladimir Andreichenko.
State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev represented the Standing Committee of the Union State.
The heads of several ministries and government agencies from both Russia and Belarus were also invited to the meeting.
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President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Friends,
We have long developed approaches and regulations in this regard, and agreed on them yesterday with President Putin, and I think you will agree to entrust me with chairing this meeting. However, as is traditional – we have always done it this way – Mr Putin, thank you for hosting this expanded format meeting today, and of course, I give you the floor for a word of welcome.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, friends, Mr Lukashenko,
I actually only have a few words to say. I would like to welcome everyone to Russia, to Moscow. You certainly feel at home here. We are working very closely together as part of the Union State. President Lukashenko, as Chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, will moderate our work today. As your host, I just want to welcome you again, and wish you fruitful work.
Our governments and parliaments have worked hard to prepare our today’s meeting. In fact, we have gathered only to record the results of your work. I would like to thank you for your effort and express hope that, if there are any issues that have not yet been agreed upon, although I don’t see any, but if anything arises in the course of live discussion and hands-on work, we will certainly reach agreements and find solutions acceptable to both parties, a practice we have always used in our joint activities.
Thank you very much. Welcome.
Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, friends,
I'll take this opportunity and speak at the beginning as is customary. The President of Russia will speak on individual issues, and I think, my remarks will be enough.
Friends, you know that President Putin and I had fundamental talks yesterday. We discussed issues that reporters would refer to as closed-door, they always exist. We paid more attention to security issues and to the development of the military-industrial complex and related issues, as well as the defence of the Union State.
I believe, and the President of Russia mentioned this, that we had productive talks. We reached an agreement on all issues, more than a dozen of them. We are not disclosing the subject of the talks, but I think you will hear and see everything soon. However, since we agreed that we will discuss the socioeconomic agenda today, let me say a few words about that.
It goes without saying that, given the circumstances, it is hard to overestimate the importance of this unique interstate association. In terms of the aggregate results achieved over a short period, our union is rightfully among the leaders if we take other integration associations. It is not surprising that many of our solutions and practices have been widely used in neighbouring integration associations within the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Today, more than ever, it is important for us to fully implement the provisions of our Treaty on the Formation of the Community of Belarus and Russia which was signed in April 1996, 27 years ago. This fundamental document was the starting point for the further deepening of bilateral relations and, as you may remember, President Putin and I signed an agreement on our union and the creation of the Union State.
By gradually expanding the legal foundations of interaction, we have opened wide avenues to reinvigorate business, cooperation between scientific circles, creative teams and partnerships of youth associations. Freedom of movement of people and capital, equal opportunities for education and employment – all of that serves as an indisputable advantage of our integration in the eyes of ordinary Belarusians and Russians. I am saying this because people tend to forget about it and take it for granted and forget that not a single country has in its relations what Russia and Belarus have. We move freely, our people can choose their place of work, and we have resolved all associated issues.
The number of trade transactions serves as a marker of the success of our economic cooperation. Over the past 27 years, our trade grew by over 4.5 times in terms of value. Industrial cooperation is the key area of bilateral relations. Today, it is represented by ties between more than 8,000 Belarusian and Russian companies and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Over 60 joint science and technology programmes have been completed over the years that we were building the Union State. Mr Putin, young people met – you mentioned this to me in Minsk – young researchers have charted the course of further development. It came from a question a student once asked you. You called me and said we should move in that direction, and we gathered young scientists for a serious convention at the Academy of Sciences and identified ambitious areas of common interest for further work.
So, there are 60 joint science and technology programmes in various fields – space exploration, IT, agriculture, materials production and device manufacturing. Many designs are being successfully introduced in manufacturing to support the programme of import substitution and decrease dependence on Western technology.
President Putin and I discussed the very challenging issue of import substitution in microelectronics before the operation [in Ukraine]. We had a long discussion of that topic yesterday. I know the Russian President is anxious about this topic and summoned specialists in this area, I have made a number of visits to Planar, a manufacturer of the equipment and machine tools for producing those microchips and things like that. Naturally, we have the Integral enterprise and a number of others that we have preserved, and now we are setting up production associations with the Russians. I asked specialist a question, “So what are we to do? We need to ensure defence, we need to ensure security, we must also have space covered. So what can I say to the President of Russia?” He replied, “Ask him if the planes are flying.” I say, “They are”. – “They will keep flying. And the rockets are flying and they will keep flying.” I say, “But he speaks about 0.7 nanometres whereas we have about 100.” He produces a microchip (Mr Mishustin, probably, knows better), puts it on the table and says, “Look. This is 0.7 nanometres. Why should you, the presidents, worry about just this one chip whereas we produce everything else.” I say, “How about space?” And he replies, “It is not fit for space, only ours is fit for that, because there is radiation and insane loads there.” I ask him, “What is it fit for, then?” He says, “For iPhones.” I say, “That’s not a big deal. If someone wants it, they will buy that iPhone.” And actually they do. Although it’s a bit more expensive.
I am explaining all that at length because I told the President yesterday that we found a way out of this challenging issue and many others. I am reluctant to speak about it in front of the media. It means we will bear it.
It is not like designing a car or a tractor, it is a complicated thing. We have learned how to do it, we have the know-how. All that used to be produced in the USSR but then we just leaned towards the West. Today we understand that they are no friends to us and we must do all those things ourselves.
Our countries pursue a coordinated foreign policy in the international arena. Our foreign policy cooperation is an example for other agencies to follow.
An effective system of defence and security of the Union State has been established which includes a successfully operating regional group of forces and the united regional system of air defence. Steps taken to enhance border security have made the Union State much better protected from international terrorism, uncontrolled migration flows, weapons and ammunition smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal economic activities.
I told the President yesterday that weapons from Ukraine have streamed into Russia and through it – to us. Because our border with Ukraine is firmly sealed, the weapons began moving via the Bryansk Region and other regions.
Mr Putin, we have finished the operation with Alexander Bortnikov today. We will inform the public shortly. You know, we have apprehended that terrorist who sneaked into Belarus through Russia, I reported to you about it yesterday that they wanted to send him away to another country. The FSB and KGB conducted an operation and apprehended the entire network. The Russians are finishing up along some extra lines here, in Russia. It means we will not be left in peace.
But the key is that weapons and explosives caches are here, in Russia and Belarus, they arrive and take them. Just like in the case of the St Petersburg situation. No ordinary person would carry explosives and munitions in their pockets across the borders. The caches are already here. We have disclosed several of them. Therefore, we had a serious discussion of security issues in this regard. I think we will handle it.
Media resources are a topic that our specialists also discuss. We agreed with President Putin back in St Petersburg that we must have a substantial union media holding. It’s time to set up such a holding. It may become expensive but if we want to get our agenda across – and there is a lot to speak about – we must set up such a media holding rather than append it to some other organisations. We have agreed on that. However, it is not being done very fast, especially since certain funds are required.
Much has been done regarding the issue of the information struggle and the issue of creating powerful ideological support from our citizens for our Union State’s construction. Of course, we do not have the right to lose the battle for our citizens’ hearts and minds in the printed press, TV, radio and digital battlefields. The West vs. East ideological standoff is not receding, even when the guns go silent, it will be here for the long haul.
You are aware of the situation surrounding our countries, which is nothing but simple. Without a doubt, we withstood the first volleys of foreign economic blows with dignity. Much has been said about this, and I am watching it closely, too. President Putin was correct in Tula when he spoke about import substitution. He was shown a sample – we, too, do much in the auto industry – so, the specialists showed him an automotive platform, which is no unsophisticated piece of equipment, and few countries can do this. Russia mastered this production. The West left and Russia mastered this production. We are following this, considering whether we will need to buy these platforms in Russia, but we already own the production process and we have mastered the production process.
So, failed attempts at imposing an economic blockade are replaced with… Today, no economic blockade has a chance to succeed. They thought they could rush us. Had they given it any thought, they would have never done it, because the economy is, in principle, self-sufficient. Their economic attack did not work out for them and they began to purposefully put military pressure on us. They are now building up NATO forces and abilities near the borders of Belarus and Russia with a particular focus on the Kaliningrad Region. This is what you are seeing. The rhetoric about the prospects for a global armed conflict is ramping up.
Amid the information, political and economic war unleashed against Belarus and Russia, the crisis of international law and the clear impact of international institutions, we need to act in a more coordinated and swift manner in order to uphold and protect the national interests of Belarus and Russia. In my Address (the President of Russia knew about it in advance), I was direct in conveying the message that, if need be, we will use everything at our disposal to protect our countries and our peoples. I think they have similar approaches. We are not blackmailing anyone. It will be so.
Since last year, the governments of our countries have been working as an anti-crisis headquarters and, I must say, we have achieved noticeable results in adapting the economy and in building new trade and logistics routes. In principle, not to take much of your time, President Putin and I noted yesterday that there is nothing to reproach our governments for; the main goals that we outlined have been fulfilled. There are some loose ends, but, as our prime minister says, we will tie them up in the spring. Well, thank God for that.
Thanks to this cooperation, we have revivified our cooperation, and have moved to trade transactions in Russian rubles for strategic goods with attraction of lending resources. We are implementing a number of major investment projects worth over 1.5 billion that we really need both in Russia and Belarus.
In 2022, the Union Council of Ministers and the Supreme State Council adopted 56 legal acts, which have been implemented in national legislation. I will not list them now; you know what I am talking about.
Today’s agenda is quite extensive. We will review traditional and completely new, but critically important issues.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko, colleagues,
Critically important issues concerning the development of integration in the economy, security and defence, as well as in the cultural and humanitarian sphere, were discussed at a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State today.
Yesterday, the President of Belarus and I held a substantive and constructive one-on-one meeting. Today, we reviewed in detail the state of affairs in the priority areas of building the Union State during a meeting with the participation of the heads of government and parliament and government officials supervising key areas of activity. I have no doubt that we will approve many major decisions aimed at further deepening the integration processes.
The commitment to step up activities across these areas and the entire range of cooperation is fully shared by public opinion, by the peoples of our countries. This was clearly demonstrated, in particular, during the recent celebration of the Day of Unity between the Peoples of Russia and Belarus.
I would like to emphasise that our countries are united by our traditional friendship and common cultural, spiritual and moral values which we use as a basis to build the Union State together.
We have accomplished a lot. Extensive, mutually beneficial trade and economic ties have been established, and cooperation in the defence, science and technology, education, culture and other areas has strengthened significantly. Acting in close coordination, the governments of our countries are working to ensure macroeconomic stability. Interaction in the currency, finance and monetary spheres is expanding.
We are jointly implementing comprehensive measures to mitigate the damage caused by illegitimate sanctions. We are strengthening our cooperation with foreign countries that are willing to work with us and want to continue this cooperation into the future.
The effectiveness of these joint efforts is confirmed by growing trade numbers. Russia firmly stands as Belarus’ largest trade and economic partner. As a reminder, in 2021 trade grew 35 percent to US$40 billion and another 12 percent to a record high of US$45 billion in 2022. We discussed this yesterday. According to Belarusian statistics, it increased to US$50 billion, including services, as the President of Belarus said. Anyone involved in the economy understands that these are sizable figures for our countries.
At the same time, as the prime ministers noted during our discussion today, the volumes of supplies from both sides are balanced overall, which is a very good indicator of our work as well.
Significant achievements have been made in the integration of key industries. The 28 sectoral priority programmes approved at the previous Supreme State Council meeting in 2021 are making progress.
To date, both governments and the relevant agencies have completed 74 percent of the activities planned under those priority programmes, and, as we have seen, this work is yielding tangible results. We will certainly continue this without slowing down, as we agreed today.
The deputy prime ministers have reported on some of the integration efforts. For my part, I would like to specifically highlight the obvious progress in harmonising trade laws – the prime ministers spoke about this today. In particular, and I would like to emphasise this, the Union State has created a Unified Integrated System for Levying Indirect Taxes in accordance with the agreement signed in September 2022. This significantly simplified import and export operations, reduced business costs and expedited VAT refunds. All this is inducing the results that I just mentioned, and which we discussed today.
In December 2022, the Interstate Customs Centre was established as part of the Union State Customs Committee, an important body that prevents illegal import and export operations and blocks the movement of goods without paying excise and customs duties. All this makes our joint work much more transparent and efficient.
The work on a unified industrial policy is in full swing. President Lukashenko has been talking about this for years. We are moving towards the implementation of all these ideas. In December 2022, we enacted an intergovernmental agreement on the recognition of technological operations. This document, in particular, will enable Russian and Belarusian industrial enterprises to shift to common standards so major cooperation projects will progress more smoothly. We also discussed these issues last night. In some areas, such as agriculture equipment, work is progressing faster and it benefits industry in Russia and Belarus.
Russia and Belarus continue creating a unified oil and gas market. An agreement on the formation of a single electric power market is being prepared for signing.
Russia and Belarus are building up defence and security cooperation and will continue to do so, as was noted today, expanding cooperation in the military-technical sphere. This certainly meets the underlying interests of the two countries and our peoples and is truly important, given the complicated international situation.
The President of Belarus raised the issue of extending a number of previous agreements. I fully support this and ask our Security Council to review everything that the President of Belarus set today as a priority in this area.
The agenda item on the drafting of the Union State’s Security Concept we discussed today is of great importance in this context. In this document, we need to lay out the fundamental tasks of interaction in conditions of growing tensions on the external borders of our states and the sanctions and information war that has been unleashed against us.
We should certainly deal in detail with strategic planning. We will continue strengthening the Union State’s security system, thereby guaranteeing conditions for sustainable, steady socioeconomic development.
Another obvious achievement of our common effort is growing Russian-Belarusian ties in the cultural, humanitarian and education areas. Our countries are carrying out many interesting projects.
Thus, this autumn several cities in Belarus will host Days of Russian Culture and Days of Russian Cinema. A bilateral museum forum will take place in Minsk on May 11–12. We have an agreement on the participation of our countries’ leading technical universities in the large education project, The Union State’s School of Engineering Sciences. We know how important this is for both Belarus and Russia. As for professional education, we have always focused on this, and now it is even more important than before.
We also welcome the inclusion of the issues related to assistance for the students and education institutions of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics into the humanitarian agenda of the Union State’s activities. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for supporting this undertaking and his willingness to fund this project from the common Union budget. If these are not humanitarian issues, what are? Education, assistance for children and young people is something we must always focus on.
In conclusion, I would like to express again my confidence that the decisions made today by the Supreme State Council will promote the further dynamic development of Russian-Belarusian integration, and the strengthening of the Union State’s security and defence potential.