President of Russia Vladimir Putin: How are you, Mr Mezentsev? How can we help you deliver on the serious, interesting and important objectives you have in your current position?
I have to say that you are serving in your position at an instrumental and interesting juncture in the development of the Union State, as well as in terms of achieving the objectives we have set for it in the interests of the people of Russia and Belarus.
How can we be of assistance to you?
State Secretary of the Union State of Russia and Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev: Mr President, thank you very much for your kind words. For me, what you said is both a mission statement, and an additional call to action.
You visited Minsk just a few days ago, demonstrating yet again that Belarus and Russia have been following their own path in developing their relations. You reaffirmed our allied status and format. I would like to brief you on what has been achieved within the Union State format.
Mr President, in the presentation I briefly outlined the mechanism of Union State programmes, which is financed from the Union State’s budget. This mechanism remains in place alongside the major breakthrough achieved thanks to the 28 economic integration programmes. They were adopted thanks to you and the President of Belarus and the position you expressed, which was a truly historical, ground-breaking and major decision.
We carried out 68 programmes worth a total of 55.2 billion rubles before 2020 in seven sectors: space – with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and Roscosmos State Corporation taking pride in their achievements, as well as healthcare, electronics and microelectronics, manufacturing and agricultural production.
Of course, the Union State has been consistent in its efforts to ensure the Union State’s security and securing its borders considering the challenges and threats our two brotherly nations are facing today. We have been paying quite a lot of attention to this sector and facilitating contacts between border control services and defence ministries. The Supreme State Council adopted a new military doctrine on November 4, as well as a migration policy concept, which means that all these elements are part of a single cooperation effort.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Mezentsev, the share of electronics and microelectronics was 26 percent in 2000–2020, is that right?
Dmitry Mezentsev: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: But it is only 9 percent in 2021–2027.
Dmitry Mezentsev: This is a forecast.
Vladimir Putin: But it is not becoming any less important.
Dmitry Mezentsev: No, it is becoming more topical, as you have rightly pointed out.
Vladimir Putin: It is becoming more topical, but the funding is decreasing. The number of programmes has fallen from 18 to two.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Yes, you are right. Let me explain.
We were grateful to the Governments and Prime Minister of Russia Mikhail Mishustin for taking a long-expected decision this year. All the restrictions have been removed from the Union State projects, which could previously be implemented only in education and culture. But the crucial part is that under the new algorithm for implementing Union State programmes, which we are talking about now, the drafting of programmes must be reduced from three or four years to one year. We have made our forecast based on the tactical proposals of our ministries and agencies as the state customer ordering these programmes. At the same time, we expect the high-tech sector to remain the overriding priority for the potential customers, namely, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, the Industry and Trade Ministry of Russia, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kurchatov Institute. This is why we made that forecast.
The 26 percent reached before 2020 is a fact, a framework and an achievement of the Union State.
Vladimir Putin: Belarus has a substantial framework; it has preserved quite a lot since the Soviet era and has been recently increasing it thanks to the efforts of the republican authorities and President Lukashenko, who keeps a close eye on that.
But you know this; work is underway at the level of ministries and agencies. Moreover, our Government believes that it is an extremely promising sphere. And the main thing is that this is what we need, what Russia needs.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Yes, a framework that we have preserved. Mr President, I assure you and I promise you that we will address this issue even more thoroughly. We know that the Government will support us in this.
Mr President, one of our present tasks is to prevent a poorly thought-out preparation of programmes, which sometimes happened in the past when proposals were formulated. We must ensure that a programme is formulated as a balanced document, included on the list of import substitution tasks and made competitive, as well as meeting the challenges of the new technological paradigm. Trust me, we are fully aware of that, and it is very important that you have drawn our attention to this, which we will definitely take into account.
Mr President, we have two more institutions, two mechanisms in addition to programmes funded from the Union budget…
Vladimir Putin: Excuse me, we have eight healthcare programmes, right?
Dmitry Mezentsev: Yes, they have been implemented.
Vladimir Putin: A programme of joint activities on Chernobyl disaster relief. The development of new spinal systems for children with severe congenital deformities and spinal injuries. The use of stem cells.
Dmitry Mezentsev: We even brought an 11-year-old girl from Donetsk with her mother here. A fragment cut two vertebrae. Specialists in St Petersburg at the Turner Centre for Pediatric Traumatology and Orthopedics did the unthinkable. Today the girl can move around in a wheelchair, and she has almost regained full movement of her upper limbs, her arms.
Vladimir Putin: Thank God. Look, here, further in the presentation: the creation of a therapeutic vaccine against tuberculosis.
Dmitry Mezentsev: I would like to place special emphasis on this.
These are innovations supported by the ministers of Healthcare of Belarus and Russia. We have plans to allocate full funding to complete the work and carry out preclinical and clinical trials from the Union budget in the next three years. And today this is the dream of mankind: a tuberculosis vaccine. We believe that in three years our main partner, the St Petersburg Influenza Research Institute, will achieve a convincing result.
Vladimir Putin: Look, we basically have a vaccine. I am not an expert, but I know that our vaccine is much better and more effective than the European one; this is recognised by international experts, and I think it was the WHO that spoke about this. The European one has side effects after application: up to four percent, while we hardly have any, and the effectiveness is very high.
What am I getting at? Will they develop what is already there, or…
Dmitry Mezentsev: No, Mr President. Firstly, it is unacceptable, let us say, to pay money as part of some kind of scam. No one will allow deceit under the supervision of the healthcare ministries.
Vladimir Putin: I have no doubt.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Well, let me tell you that the Accounts Chamber of Russia and the State Control Committee of Belarus are not just meticulous, but extremely strict when it comes to spending funds from the state budget of the Union State. We understand this well, and, believe me, government customers – republican and federal ministries and departments – are working in such a manner, so that, as they say, not a penny is wasted.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Mr President, we have just published the rules and regulations the Union State has adopted over the years. As you can see, these two volumes cover the regulatory framework of the Union State. We would like to ask you to have these two volumes in your reference library.
Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you very much.
Space is a very interesting subject. We have advanced remote sensing systems already but we need further improvements, as long as we have good, promising projects with Belarus. I know for sure that our colleagues have made some progress in this sector. There is also the manned flight programme.
When President Lukashenko visits Russia, will he travel to the Cosmonaut Training Centre?
Dmitry Mezentsev: He had plans to visit the Star City. I think that this will happen quite soon. This will once again enable us to highlight cooperation between Russia and Belarus in this sector.
Mr President, your decision to have Russia allocate substantial funds for building a remote sensing satellite with a 0.35-metre resolution drew a lot of attention, considering that 2 metres is currently the standard. Needless to say, the National Academy of Sciences [of Belarus] will be partnering with Roscosmos State Corporation from early 2023. Later we will determine whether we need a satellite group.
Vladimir Putin: Excellent.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Mr President, let me raise the issue of Union State security.
Of course, this is a very important topic today. Many infrastructure facilities have been completed to offer the defence ministries a single regional force. Much has been done to ensure the sustained operation of the Belarusian railway troops. There are dedicated programmes and special practices for enabling border control services to work together, including the joint board. Make no mistake, these mechanisms are instrumental for their work. There is a substantial return on every ruble you invest and we can say in all confidence – we have heard this phrase many times, but it comes at a great cost for people in uniform – that the Union State borders are secure.
Vladimir Putin: This is very important. There is also the line which reads, “Improving security systems for shared information resources.” This is a topical issue today.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Just a few days ago, we submitted a draft Supreme State Council decree on the Union State’s cyber security to Mr Mishustin. We will submit it for approval to you and the President of Belarus at the meeting scheduled for early 2023.
We have a proposal for the Foreign Ministry to set up a cyber security training and retraining centre. You were right to say and point to the fact that the IT sector did not receive the attention it required in our forecast. Let me assure you that we will take this into consideration.
Mr President, there is also the practice of extending the Union State projects and activities. We are especially grateful to you and to the President of the Republic of Belarus for approving significant funds from the Union budget this year to help children in Donbass.
Our group has visited Donetsk three times, and travelled to Lugansk in early December. We have seen how children react to modern computers, interactive learning systems and projection equipment. We handed over two Gorky Automobile Plant buses specially assembled for this purpose, and I can tell you that we got them practically at their cost, to an Olympic reserve school in Donetsk and a sports school in Lugansk. We spoke with the education system administrators, and with the heads of the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics, and we know that this work should continue.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely. Thank you.
Dmitry Mezentsev: The needs of the local education system are so great, considering its current state, as it could not be improved for a long time – that we will also have to ask you to sign a Supreme State Council order next year so that we could continue this work specifically for the children of Donbass.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
This is our 2023 agenda, isn’t it? Information support, science, technology, security, civic and patriotic education, healthcare, education, sports, social and cultural activities… We have an agreement on this, do we not?
Dmitry Mezentsev: And an ironclad confirmation, and approved spending in the Union State budget. We have increased the number of measures to 33.
Also, Mr President, if you will, just one small thing. The ministries of defence and the ministries of culture have reached out to us, and we certainly supported the initiative to establish a centre for patriotic education at the Kobrin Fortification in the Brest Fortress. It is not going to be an ordinary, conventional museum. It is important for it to be an interactive and immersive centre for children on the Great Patriotic War history. This will give them an opportunity to discuss who they are today, what they are and how they understand their role as citizens. It will be a dialogue between young Belarusians and young Russians, because 20–25 years from now, it will be their turn to take responsibility for their countries’ future and for the system of relations in the Union State as well.
Vladimir Putin: We will definitely support this.
Dmitry Mezentsev: Thank you.