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News conference following Russian-Belarusian talks

December 19, 2022, Minsk

Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko held a joint news conference following Russian-Belarusian talks.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

To begin with, I would like to thank the President of Belarus for the invitation to visit Minsk and for the traditionally warm reception accorded to the Russian delegation.

As President Lukashenko rightly noted, our talks were very practical – we noted this today during our talks both in the expanded format and just now face to face – they were really very useful and timely. It seems like we meet often enough, and yet it proved very useful to sum up the results of the joint work done by our governments and various ministries and departments during the year. It was useful not only for reviewing what has been done but also for planning our next steps.

As I mentioned, we first talked in the expanded format, with the government leaders, key ministers and other representatives supervising specific areas of our bilateral ties, and then continued our talks face-to-face. We also agreed to discuss certain issues over a working dinner.

We reviewed the main issues of Russian-Belarusian relations in a business-like and constructive manner, including the economy, the cultural and humanitarian sphere, security and defence.

Of course, we discussed these with due account of the situation that is taking shape in the world as a whole and in our region in particular. I would like to emphasise that our countries are the closest allies and strategic partners, and that we continue to develop cooperation on the principles of mutual respect and with consideration for each other’s interests.

We are united by a common history, moral values, and deep family and kindred ties between many Russians and Belarusians. Russia and Belarus are building the Union State together and are consistently deepening economic integration which is aimed at ensuring sustainable economic growth and improving the living standards of our people.

Together, we are countering the sanctions pressure by unfriendly states and attempts to isolate Russia and Belarus from global markets. We are also coordinating our steps to minimise the impact of the unlawful restrictions on our economies. I can say that we are doing this confidently and efficiently.

I would like to state with satisfaction the successful implementation of the 28 sectoral integration programmes that were drafted in the context of implementing the Union State Treaty. As of today, we have carried out some 600 of the almost 1,000 integration projects scheduled for implementation until 2023.

It is a very good forward movement, a good tempo.

In particular, we have implemented a programme to harmonise our currency control and regulation systems, signed an agreement on a common monetary policy, adopted a uniform accounting and financial reporting system, and launched a common system of product traceability and the Interstate Customs Services Coordination Centre. Our next task is to create an integrated system for administering indirect taxes and a supranational tax committee.

Our mutual trade is growing fast. Over the first 10 months of this year, it has increased by 10.1 percent. This is a good result, considering the solid base we have created. As I noted at the expanded part of the talks, our trade grew to US$38.5 billion or by one third last year, and by 10 percent in the first 10 months of this year. We hope that this year our trade will reach a record high exceeding US$40 billion.

Russia is the largest investor in the Belarusian economy with over US$4 billion in investment. About 2,500 companies with Russian capital are operating on the Belarusian market.

We are implementing large-scale bilateral projects in industry, high-tech sectors and innovations in many key areas.

Overall, Russian and Belarusian enterprises maintain close cooperation ties and have contracts for mutual deliveries of components and finished goods.

Russia has allocated an additional 105 billion rubles to our Belarusian partners for financing future-oriented joint import substitution projects in mechanical engineering, machine tool engineering and electronics.

I would like to point out that these are mutually beneficial projects, which are necessary not only for Belarus and not only because it needs this funding. Russia also needs these projects to saturate our market, especially after some foreign companies have left it.

I would also like to note that Russia supplies Belarus with oil and gas on very good, preferential terms, which is proof of the privileged nature of our partnership and a major measure of support for the Belarusian economy.

We discussed the parameters of energy prices. I believe – we have been discussing this with President Lukashenko during our one-on-one conversations – we can assume that we have coordinated all the main parameters, including those that are sensitive in terms of pricing in the energy sector.

In addition, we have been systematically expanding our cooperation under civilian nuclear projects. Next year, we plan to complete the construction of the second unit for the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Its first unit has generated some 10 billion kWh of energy over the past two years.

Our countries closely cooperate in many other knowledge-intensive industries such as space exploration, including joint development of satellites. As agreed, a Belarusian cosmonaut’s flight to the orbital station is scheduled for next year.

If I understand correctly, Mr Lukashenko has accepted my invitation to visit the Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia shortly before the CIS informal summit in St Petersburg.

Of course, Russian and Belarusian regions make a substantial contribution to developing cooperation across the areas mentioned. They have established direct links between local government bodies, business circles, public activists, cultural, educational and academic communities.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite our Belarusian friends to the tenth Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions that will be held in Ufa next summer.

Naturally, during the talks today, we extensively discussed building our common defence space and ensuring the security of the Union State, as well as cooperation within the Collective Security Treaty Organisation in view of the fact that Belarus is taking over the CSTO chairmanship on January 1.

I would like to remind you that, as part of the consistent implementation of the Russia-Belarus military doctrine, we work on joint military planning and have an operational Russia-Belarus regional force grouping. Our countries’ divisions and military units currently undergo coordination training in Belarus. We have created a joint air defence system that is already on combat duty. We have agreed to continue taking all necessary measures to ensure the security of our countries, prioritising training of the troops, improving their combat readiness and continuing the practice of regular joint exercise and other operational and combat training events, mutual supplies of essential weapons and producing new military equipment together.

I believe it is also possible to continue implementing President Lukashenko’s proposal on training the Belarusian Army combat aircraft crews that have been re-equipped for potential use of air-launched ammunition with special warheads. I want to stress that this form of cooperation is not our invention. For example, the United States have conducted similar activities with their NATO allies for decades. These coordinated measures are extremely important in view of the tensions at the external borders of the Union State.

Finally, I would like to thank, once again, the President of Belarus for the constructive talks that will surely benefit further development of the Russia-Belarus alliance in all areas.

Our work does not end here. As I said, President Lukashenko also invited me to a working dinner where we will also have things to discuss.

Thank you.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today we have held constructive and fruitful talks with the President of the Russian Federation on the main issues of Belarusian-Russian cooperation, just as we have always done. But we were not the only ones, our state delegations included the most ”high-ranking“ officials.

We placed the emphasis on strategic areas, above all, in the economy. As usual, much attention was paid to the foreign policy agenda. Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about the negotiations at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the strategic agreements that had been reached.

Over the entire 30-year post-Soviet history, the outgoing year was indeed a record-breaking in terms of the number and intensity of contacts at all levels. But this is objective: the situation in the world is changing rapidly, and these changes are, without exaggeration, truly momentous in terms of their depth and scale. In fact, the future of the Belarusian and Russian peoples is being determined. The reality is such, and there is no pathos here at all.

Today we can clearly state: together we have not only managed to stand our ground, but also to find opportunities for the development of our economies, although it was to everyone’s surprise and above all unexpected for those who have been creating difficulties for us.

The day before, at a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Bishkek, we had already noted that the West's primitive mass production of economic sanctions against our countries was beginning to fade.

Importantly, it is now obvious to all that such restrictions have had a painful boomerang effect on the initiators. And it is not at all the figures that came up with the sanctions who are suffering, but ordinary people and businesses. This is the guilt of those who first unleashed an economic war against our countries and then a proxy war with Russia at the hands of the Ukrainians, as is now clear, ”to the last Ukrainian.“

Nevertheless, the year 2022 gives grounds to assert with cautious optimism that we are coping – and quite well – with the economic challenges. To our own surprise, we are unlocking our enormous potential, which at other times we simply couldn't see or didn't believe in. But we must be faster in taking and implementing decisions, time is now more important than money – that is the essence of our negotiations today.

The President of Russia and I discussed the implementation of the common economic development plan that comprises 28 Union programmes. So far, we have accomplished about 60 percent of all objectives, stipulated by these programmes. We have signed a number of basic customs and taxation documents, as the President said. We need to exploit our success.

Programmes aimed at creating consolidated energy markets have key significance. We have instructed the governments to finalise these programmes accordingly.

Regarding the formulation of a joint industrial and agrarian policy, we agreed to strengthen our co-production arrangements. We will not create any unnecessary duplication of production facilities, even if either country has them, and we will focus on the industry.

We discussed measures to harmonise transport market regulation. I believe that we will soon resolve all issues in this area.

These issues will facilitate equal opportunities for the operation of economic entities and will make it possible to sell goods under state procurement contracts. We have decided to expedite our work in all these spheres. We need to move faster because time is short.

Obviously, we need to focus our joint efforts on transforming the economies of Belarus and Russia. We need to make them more science-intensive, more high-tech and more innovative. It is also necessary to digitalise them and to enhance our technological sovereignty.

Mr President, I would like to draw the attention of our colleagues to something I have already told you about many times at our meetings. You know the subject, but, nevertheless, Belarus is a very small state, compared to Russia. We often talk about the engineering sector, industry, agriculture, science, new technologies and the rest. Some of our colleagues from Russia, especially those from far-away regions, looked at the map and wondered where all this came from. This is not our merit alone. Our merit is that we retained these Soviet-era production facilities. Belarus, to a degree like Ukraine, and western Russia ranked among advanced industrial territories featuring the state-of-the-art technologies and scientific achievements of that period. We retained all this, and we managed to develop these sectors under extremely adverse conditions. We can consume about 60 percent of what we produce, and we export all the rest.

With the withdrawal of our Western partners, it turned out that Russia, with its vast expanses, needs us. This is something we created together quite recently. Therefore, we can also be useful, and if Russia needs us, and it has discovered that the Russian market does need us, we will go there to replace those who have left. Just give us a little more time, and we will replace them by working with the Russians – researchers and engineers – we will create prototypes the world has never seen before.

These are not baseless or unrealistic ambitions. We have already achieved a lot.

I have already said that our GDP has not fallen by 20 or 25 percent, as some had predicted. Russia’s GDP will in fact decline by two to three percent, and that is it.

Vladimir Putin: 2.9 percent.

Alexander Lukashenko: Russia will see a 2.9 percent decline, while they predicted a drop over 20 percent.

GDP is expected to decline just over 3 percent in Belarus. Therefore, we have not crumbled, and will not crumble in the future.

These are all strategic sectors and matters of this kind cannot be resolved today or tomorrow. They need more time.

Considering the current situation along our borders, as the President has already said, we discussed certain important aspects of our cooperation in the area of military security.

I would like to thank you, Mr President, for the fact that we have been able to find common ground and mutual support on all the topics, and we took the decision we had to take.

A special thank you, and not just on my behalf or on the part of the military, for fulfilling your promise. Today, an S-400 complex you transferred to Belarus was put on combat duty. Even more importantly, we received an Iskander complex you promised us six months ago.

You have just raised a very sensitive issue, approaching it with great caution. However, you were right to note that we were not the ones who started it. I am talking about training our air force crews in handling special weapons and special warheads. I must tell you that we have prepared our aircraft. It turns out we have had these planes since the Soviet era. We tested them in the Russian Federation and are now working with the Russians to train our crews to pilot planes carrying special warheads. By doing so we are not threatening anyone. I have informed you on several occasions, including during our meetings in St Petersburg, Moscow and in Sochi, that we have major concerns regarding what you call tension along the borders of the Union State, primarily in the West. We felt the need to ensure the security of the Belarusian state. You have made a resolute and very important step to support Belarus. Once again, thank you very much.

I would also like to express y appreciation and thank you for the warm, in-depth, engaged and constructive conversation during our meeting with the participation of Belarusian and Russian government members.

Thank you for this very fruitful meeting.

Thank you for your attention.

Ilona Krasutskaya: Good afternoon.

Ilona Krasutskaya, Belarus 1 television channel. And I have a question for both heads of state.

Your meetings often take place amid the circulation of some kind of conspiracy theories – and you have actually had as many as ten meetings or so this year. What is the reason for such frequent personal meetings? And more, with all this talk about Belarus being “absorbed” by the Kremlin, why do you think these theories are so persistent?

Vladimir Putin: Russia is not interested in absorbing anyone; this just makes no sense.

Today we talked about – you know, this seems like a trivial and down-to-earth issue but at the same time it is very sensitive for the economy – about pricing and price regulation in the energy sector.

Today's meeting was very constructive and very substantive, and President Lukashenko was absolutely right about this. But some “absorptions” were mentioned there as well. But this is not what matters at all. What matters is that pricing should be fair, as the President of Belarus has said.

You don't have to be a big expert to understand what the problem is. The problem is that we have different levels of subsidies and different approaches to subsidising specific market participants, the public utilities sector and households. The level is different, the approaches are different, and therefore it is important for us to go deeper in there and agree on some general principles. The same holds true for our efforts to align customs regulation and tax regulation. Unscrupulous critics from the outside either do not know what they are talking about, or they are doing this on purpose, misleading people who are not deeply familiar with the matter.

Absorption is not the issue; the issue is coordinating economic policies, as members of many other integration associations do. Anything else is just superficial nonsense or attempts, by our ill-wishers, to slow down our integration process. And they are doing this with the sole purpose of not letting effective and dangerous competitors enter global markets. That's all.

Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, you are absolutely right. I would only like to inform you that our “fugitives” are mostly voicing these statements from abroad. About 2,000 of them fled abroad, and they have to earn money because no one provides them with free cash. So, they don’t even write these statements, they simply repeat other peoples’ narratives.

What should they discuss ahead of your visit to Belarus? They can talk about absorption. (Addressing Ilona Krasutskaya.) You should realise this, and you are asking the right question. Yes, they are now starting to chatter about this from abroad. However, it is the end result that counts. What results can we talk about? The President of Russia and I asked members of his delegation who arrived here about some pressing issues.

Regarding the energy sector, do we produce gas? No, we get natural gas form fraternal Russia. Do we produce 25 million tonnes of crude oil that we can refine? Can Belarus, which has two upgraded and state-of-the-art refineries, provide them with enough crude oil? No, it cannot. Whom did we ask for help? We asked the Russian Federation. We did not merely ask. All right, these amounts are not a problem. Profitable prices are also important. Moreover, petroleum sales have become a problem nowadays. One can discuss other similar issues. We have discussed all this, and we have adopted a decision on these issues.

We talked about transportation and freight traffic, including two-way and coastal traffic, etc. The President of Russia has instructed the Government to finalise these aspects and to adopt decisions beneficial for us as soon as possible. This involves 25,000 freight carriers. We should multiply this by a minimum figure – about 100,000 people together with their families. So, what absorption are they talking about?

The industrial policy, rather than oil and gas, proved to be the most serious and high-priority issue today. We should not create any unnecessary duplication of production facilities. We need to work on co-production arrangements, so that no one will ever push us around, just like they did in the past when investors arrived and later abandoned various projects. Isn’t it profitable for us? Russia can do without Belarus, but not the other way round. We have agreed here that we will act as equals.

The President of Russia and I have just made a very serious statement on defence and security. Let us be honest: can we defend our independence and sovereignty all alone without Russia? No, we cannot. Russia did not abandon us in time of need.

Today, they will claim that Putin has arrived in order to scare someone here. Following our statements, we can see that he has met us halfway, like a near and dear person who holds Belarus close to heart.

We discussed the nuclear power plant. Sergei Lavrov took the floor to say that we will work together on the foreign policy track. Working together means acting as equals, which has always been the case for us. For this reason, any talk of one party absorbing the other begs the question: what for? Russia has always been ready to meet us halfway. There is not a single unresolved issue between us. We have also been there for Russia in an hour of need.

You know, the two of us are co-aggressors, the meanest, most toxic people on this planet. The only issue we have between us is to determine who is bigger. President Putin tells me that I am, but I am beginning to think that he is. So we decided to stick together, as equals, and that’s it.

But if it occurs to anyone that they can drive us apart, drive a wedge between us, they won’t succeed. In 2020, it was not he [President of Russia] who attacked me. You saw how I came under attack from all sides. But it was not Russia. Russia offered us a helping hand, while blows kept coming from the other side. What did they want? They wanted to take our independence and sovereignty all at once.

For this reason, all I can say is that they will never succeed in driving us apart. This will only bring us closer together. In fact, our meeting today with the President and our colleagues can be described as laying the foundation for a leap forward. Make no mistake, we will achieve this breakthrough.

Vladimir Putin: There is a reason for having these frequent meetings. Look, as I have already said, last year trade grew 30 percent, which is an unprecedented increase. Now that some of our Western partners are leaving our market, this creates a window of opportunity for Belarus and its manufacturers. Belarusian goods are very popular on the Russian market, including agricultural products, furniture, industrial goods, farm machinery building and transport engineering. BelAZ trucks are very popular.

With these trade volumes, we must deal with many administrative issues at the high and top levels. This has become an ongoing effort for our governments, considering the gigantic volume. Much has been done, but we have yet to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. This requires our constant efforts.

The President of Belarus mentioned oil and gas. Indeed, Belarus does not have oil or gas, but it does have refineries. There was a time when we needed more petrochemicals for our market, including petrol. We received it from your plants. This means that it works both ways and has been quite effective.

Alexander Lukashenko: You have mentioned frequent meetings.

First, the situation required that we have frequent meetings as presidents to discuss various matters. Take security, for example. It is obvious that this topic remains on the agenda. There are also economic matters, with the entire world, well maybe not all the world, but its so-called golden billion, or the collective West, coming after us by delivering a powerful, high-tech blow. This compelled us to coordinate our actions in order to act the way we did. We have now summed up the results of the year, as the President has said. We did it.

Overall, someone may be jealous that the President of Russia and I have so many meetings. Maybe someone would like to see him even more often. He is open to holding these meetings, but you need to have a reason for meeting. These were his words, when he answered Zelensky. For this reason, stay calm. Everything will be fine. We don’t waste time. Still, we manage to find an hour or two to relax.

Ilona Krasutskaya: Thank you very much for answering in such a candid manner.

Elena Glushakova: Elena Glushakova, RIA Novosti.

President Putin, you said that you managed to reach an agreement on energy. Does it mean that you managed to agree on the gas prices and all issues are settled?

President Lukashenko, recently, you harshly criticised the slow progress in fulfilling the common gas market programme. Are these issues also settled? Is it clear to you how we will move forward?

And I can’t help but ask about last night and the final game of the FIFA World Cup. Did you watch it and which team did you root for? This question is for both presidents.

And President Putin, if France had won, is there a chance Macron would have got a call from you?

Alexander Lukashenko: Got what?

Elena Glushakova: A call from President Putin. Many people want to speak with the Russian President frequently.

Alexander Lukashenko: No, it is likely he [Emmanuel Macron] would have called President Putin to tell him happily that France had won, asking for congratulations. Just kidding.

Vladimir Putin: I maintain working relationships with many of my colleagues, including the President of France. We do maintain contact by telephone. As you know, since the beginning of the special military operation, he has visited Moscow several times.

As for the football match, I watched the second half from the moment when the score was tied at 2‒2. I did watch the extra time. Of course, afterwards I could not but call the President of Argentina to congratulate him. I know that Argentina is a football country, and this game is special for the Argentine people who love their team, including major players. I think they deserved the victory. This is first.

Second, as for the energy prices, I have already said and can only confirm that an agreement has been reached.

Alexander Lukashenko: Yes, we discussed this topic and adopted respective decisions. The governments will shortly formalise all these decisions, and I think then there will be a reason to talk.

We have set a favourable price. Russia is very helpful in this matter. There are new issues concerning gas supplies, but it is not yet time to mention them. I can only say that we are content with the outcome of the talks about a common gas market and gas pricing for the next three years, as the President has just told me one on one. The governments will speak more specifically about this.

As for football, you probably know – or maybe you don’t – that I always root for Brazil, and then for Argentina. Why? Because – unlike Russia and Belarus – football is their philosophy, or even more than that – it’s just sacred. Football is their world.

I really appreciate the Brazilians because everyone there plays football. I love sports, and even did it professionally for a while. As a child, and in my teenage years, I played football almost professionally, so I am quite familiar with the sport. So it’s Brazil, then Argentina. Because they deify football.

As for this match – I watched it beginning to end, starting from the warm-up. I was interested to see the players getting ready, especially the Argentines; they were the first to appear. I watched the whole match. You know, Argentina, I totally agree with the President, Argentina deserved that victory. They dominated the entire time – both the game and extra time.

But let's be honest: the Lord God was with France in this game. Because no one can level the score a few minutes before the end, in one and a half minutes, as the French forward did. This just does not happen.

But objectively, the Lord retreated – as a true creator. Seeing all this, He stepped back and gave victory in this dramatic match to you-know-who.

So it’s the way it should be. Once again, I agree with President Putin that Argentina, with the help of the Lord, finally pulled out the victory they deserved. You can't imagine anything better. This, as experts say, has never happened before. Even in Moscow, when the Croats played the French in the final, I think, and the French won easily. But here, this did not happen.

As for Mr Macron, you saw his body language both on the field and in the stands. But I will not contradict my elder brother; what he said was true.

Vladimir Putin: May I add something?

I would like to add – it seems to me that our Lord was also on the side of the fans. And we must thank both teams for a remarkable game. They gave us a real celebration of football, to all sports and football lovers in the world. Both teams played brilliantly.

Alexander Lukashenko: Absolutely right, it was so dramatic.

Vladimir Putin: I must say I am very grateful to them. Indeed, it was so dramatic until the very last second; both teams put up such a fight. And they were so good at it. But the strongest won indeed.

December 19, 2022, Minsk