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Answers to media questions

February 15, 2019, Sochi

Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko answered media questions following a meeting on the development of the Russia-Belarus cultural and humanitarian ties, during which they discussed bilateral cooperation in culture, education and sports.

Question: Mr Lukashenko, Mr Putin,

You have been working for the past three days, and everyone wants to know how the problem related to Russia’s tax manoeuvre was solved…

President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: The President and I just a moment ago said that this question would be asked right after the meeting. I felt that this question would be asked as if it was the biggest problem in relations between Russia and Belarus.

This problem does exist, but I am honestly and sincerely telling you, and the President will confirm this, I believe that we have not even mentioned this subject during these three days.

Do you know why? Before the new year, and you monitored the situation too, we agreed with the President (and you did not believe in it much) that we would begin a revision of our relations from the bottom up, starting with the issues of the various directions of our cooperation.

You may have noticed that today, alongside ministers, our colleagues, we reviewed our cooperation in culture, because this area has so far not been given much attention by us presidents. The President of Russia and I tend to speak more about finance, the economy, industry, deliveries, exports, imports, and neglect cultural and humanitarian cooperation. And, as the President just said, a person cannot live without this, nor can the problems that need to be solved be solved. There are several areas of cooperation.

Earlier, we met with the bloc of ministers of the economy, finance, etc. First they discussed their issues face to face, and then we did the same.

We also agreed with the President long ago that we need to assess the development of our allied relations within the framework of Belarus and Russia and to review the Union Treaty and to see what we have failed to implement in the past few years.

We are honestly telling each other that we are not eternal, and that we will be gone someday. As politicians, we cannot help but feel concerned about the legacy that we will leave behind to our children, and how they will continue our policy.

We discussed an entire range of matters before New Year’s Eve, and we are continuing to do this today; I would like to point out that we are doing this from the bottom up. No one prevents us from meeting, while at the same time gathering substantial knowledge …

Today, after hearing what Russian and Belarusian ministers said, I admitted that I don’t know a lot of things; this concerns our joint cultural and sports events, as well as education, etc.; I know a bit more about sports which is in the spotlight. The people of Russia and Belarus have ploughed through a huge layer, while cooperating in all these spheres.

Therefore we saw this and enriched our knowledge in many fields. Before taking serious steps, including the development of the Union State, we should not only know all this as presidents, but we need to assimilate this, so that we could feel convinced about this.

Therefore we have been working in various areas for three days. Yesterday, my colleague invited me to attend the final event of the summit on Syria; and I am grateful to him for this. We are not involved in these events; nevertheless, I found it very useful to attend the presidents’ meeting. And I noticed (addressing Vladimir Putin), and you probably noticed that we reviewed the entire agenda of international relations yesterday, and each president set forth his viewpoint. It is also very useful to know this.

Therefore, we will come to discuss the tax manoeuvre; but, apart from this, we face many other matters that no one will resolve except us. In any event, we should launch this process, and we are doing this. We are doing this not only while sitting at the table, but we are also carrying this out in sports. Mr President and I went mountain skiing and we will visit some other sports facility today. Tomorrow, I am planning to go to Domracheva’s track with a rifle, etc. In effect, practice is also important here.

The Lord did not endow us with the talent of painting pictures; we will not do this, but we will look at them.

I am grateful to the President for this centre. He was thinking what should be done here right in my presence, and I was watching closely. And we are already repeating the Russian Federation’s experience; therefore we have gathered here at Sirius.

Just look, how many topics we have raised. I am making impromptu remarks. You would be even more surprised if we sat down and listed all our activities in the past three days. Therefore manoeuvres are not the only thing that keeps people going.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I fully support what Mr President has said.

I just want to remind you that we will mark the Union Treaty’s 20th anniversary in December. The President of Belarus and I have agreed to analyse everything we have done recently and coordinate our positions on the integration agenda, keeping in mind that other integration processes are being developed in parallel, including the EAEU.

We must determine where we are ahead and where we are lagging behind what is happening within the EAEU. After all, the momentum for the establishment and development of the EAEU was initially provided by President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, but it was based on the understandings reached within the framework of the Union State. The Union State was to a certain degree a locomotive of integration in the post-Soviet space.

Now the EAEU has even surpassed it and some of the things contemplated by the Union Treaty of 1999 are no longer relevant. Some things are not relevant anymore while others, on the contrary, are gaining momentum and have become very important.

The purpose of our meetings over the past three days was to analyse what has been achieved, what has not been done and what needs to be done, and to consult our colleagues from different fields: the economy, finance, industry, humanitarian sphere, sports, culture and education.

We wanted to listen to them, to find out what they think of the current state of affairs and interaction prospects and determine together with Mr President what we see as most important, promising and possible to accomplish in the near future, in the mid-term and in a more remote perspective. It seems to me that we have done this.

Apart from that, I invited Mr President in the hope that he will be able to take a break for two or three days and ski down these wonderful slopes. Maybe we will also play hockey today.

So, it seems to me that the objectives we set ourselves in planning these meetings have been achieved.

Question: Mr Putin, Mr Lukashenko, I have a question about the Union State: how far will the integration go? In December, when talking to the Russian media and answering a question from my friend, Mr Lukashenko expressed concern over Belarus’ sovereignty. Did you touch upon this issue?

Alexander Lukashenko: Listen, why would we discuss the sovereignty of Russia or Belarus? It is a sacred thing, an icon. You are a Russian citizen, an ordinary individual, so I can ask you: are you ready to give up or trade your sovereignty? I am not talking about independence.

To me, independence is a relative term, while sovereignty is everything within our borders. No one, not any state – and China is an example –would ever discuss sovereignty. Therefore, we do not have any problems with it and do not discuss it even in this context.

We presume that there are two states today. You know how they were formed: it was not me or the President who initiated the collapse of that state, and we share a common opinion on this issue. It so happened that there are two states.

If you were there to hear our ministers today, you would be pleased: we did not disagree on anything. Honestly, I thought when listening to their reports, look at Ukraine, another Slavic state, there appeared a huge gap in the past few years [between it and Russia and Belarus]. And we speak the same language and have a common approach to problems.

Vladimir Putin: And there are results.

Alexander Lukashenko: Exactly, results…

You had a head start on Sirius. I remember thinking, “So we have built it all, and what will we do now and how?” I asked, “What are you going to do with these [Olympic] facilities?” He said, “No worries.” And he gave me a tour around, explaining what he would do here and there. I thought, yes, it would be good but it is not that easy. And he did it! So I say we will do the same.

Therefore this is what is key for us, so it is not about sovereignty. In my opinion, and I think my colleague and friend will agree, we are ready to go as far as you are ready to go in uniting our efforts, states and peoples.

Listen, we could unite tomorrow, we have no problems with that. But are you, Russians and Belarusians, ready for this? This is the question. So you should ask yourself this question. We will execute your will to the extent you want us to. If you are not ready, then however powerful and large Russia is, it cannot impose its will on anyone. And we certainly will not do that, and we do not need to do it.

So you should be ready in your mind. You, I mean the people of Russia and Belarus, should set goals and we will implement them, we are your servants.

Vladimir Putin: Sovereignty and independence are closely related, of course. But we discussed yesterday and two days ago what the President just said: there are no absolutely independent states in the world.

Alexander Lukashenko: I would immediately add, not even Russia.

Vladimir Putin: All countries, including the largest and smallest ones. The contemporary world is a world of interdependency.

Look at, say, Western Europe. The European Parliament has adopted more obligatory decisions for all EU members than the USSR Supreme Soviet adopted for its republics. Would you call that independence?

Or, say, military alliances, such as NATO. Do you think that any European country would want the US’s intermediate-range missiles to appear in Europe? Nobody wants that, but they keep quiet. Where is their sovereignty? But, apparently, they believe that in general, they are interested in such an organisation where they put some of their sovereignty.

We have already created supranational bodies within the EAEU – such as the EAEU Commission – and have given it some national powers. But even within the EAEU there is interdependency. And we gave it part of our sovereignty and independency because we understand that it will provide our countries with greater competitiveness.

We should also sort out in a business-like and friendly manner in what direction we can move forward within the Union State without hurting any country or people, but on the contrary, creating better conditions for the future of our countries.

February 15, 2019, Sochi