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Third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions

June 8, 2016, Minsk

Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko took part in a plenary session of the third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions.

The forum’s theme is Implementation of a Coordinated Economic Policy in the Union State: Achievements, Obstacles, Solutions and Prospects.

Speaker of the Federal Assembly Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko, Speaker of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich, Vologda Region Governor Oleg Kuvshinnikov, and Chairman of the Mogilev Regional Executive Committee Vladimir Domanevsky took the floor at the meeting.

By tradition, the forum is attended by the heads of key ministries and agencies, executive and legislative heads of Russian and Belarusian regions, and representatives of big business and public and research organisations. The previous two forums took place in June 2014 in Minsk and in September 2015 in Sochi.

Speech at the third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko, colleagues, friends,

Meetings of representatives of regional administrations, the business community and civic organisations of the two countries are playing an important role and becoming an increasingly tangible factor in our relations, strengthening them in the spirit of alliance, friendship and neighbourliness.

Speaking here, Mr Domanevsky, Governor of the Mogilev Region, primarily credited the presidents with this. Rightly so, but first and foremost credit goes to Boris Yeltsin and the graduate with honours of Mogilev State University.

Belarus is our major economic partner – it is Russia’s biggest trade partner among the CIS states. Belarus sends half of its exports to the Russian market, and could export even more.

Today we had a discussion with our colleagues from the governments of both countries. If our Belarusian partners take certain steps required to meet the interests, primarily, of their own domestic agricultural producers, they will be able to export even more products to the Russian market. It is necessary to use the current situation in order to boost production, including for the needs of the Russian market. If we do not do this today, and instead allow products under sanctions to reach the Russian market, Belarusian producers will find it more difficult to make progress on the Russian market. Meanwhile, we want to get apples, meat, milk and other products of Belarusian origin rather than those that transit Belarusian territory.

This is in the interests of Belarusian producers. I believe we discussed this issue in detail today, and I hope that our governments will find ways of resolving all questions we talked about today.

Despite last year’s decline in bilateral trade caused mainly by volatile commodity prices and currency fluctuations, we managed to expand our trade in terms of physical volume. The physical volume of commodity supplies increased by 2.6 percent in the first quarter (Russian exports to Belarus edged up by 1.6 percent, while Belarusian exports to Russia grew by 4.4 percent). That may be an immodestly high number for Belarus, but it’s good for Belarusian producers.

Mutual capital flows are expanding. In January-March, Russian investments in Belarus exceeded $1.5 billion. Belarus invested $500 million in Russia, which is a sizable amount of money. There are over 2,400 companies with Russian participation in Belarus, including 961 companies that are fully owned by Russia.

In a collaborative effort, Russia and Belarus work to deepen integration processes in Eurasia. As members of the Union State, we are carrying out about 40 programmes and are jointly developing advanced technology programmes, primarily, for the aerospace industry, satellite navigation, geological exploration, and agriculture.

We are forming the Eurasian Economic Union’s common market for goods, services, capital, and labour, thereby facilitating sustainable economic growth of the member countries and enhancing the competitiveness of our producers on domestic and foreign markets.

Friends, this year the Forum focuses on interaction between Russia and Belarus in the sphere of social policy, and our countries place special emphasis on this area of cooperation.

This year, about 1.2 billion rubles will be allocated from the Union State budget alone to promote bilateral educational, medical and other humanitarian programmes.

Much has been done to harmonise legislation of both countries in the social sphere. Issues such as pensions and maternity support have been properly addressed. Qualifying employment is mutually recognised. Uniform requirements for workplace safety have been established. It's all boring stuff, but it is critical for organising practical interaction.

We have considerable experience working together in the sphere of healthcare. This year 425 citizens of Belarus studied in Russia’s higher medical institutions. We have joined efforts to introduce modern medical technology. A rehab therapy project with the use of stem cells was successfully implemented. A programme for treating children with congenital spinal disorders is being developed.

Much is being done to ensure equal opportunities in the sphere of education for Russian and Belarusian citizens. Secondary school graduates can now apply to institutions of higher learning in both countries based on uniform rules and requirements. Interuniversity and academic exchanges are expanding.

We enjoy close cooperation in the sphere of culture and tourism. Touring Russian and Belarusian music and theatre groups, joint art exhibitions and song festivals, including the annual Slavic Bazaar in Vitebsk, which will be held in July, have always been popular with audiences. I attended this festival once. It is a really good show. Mr Lukashenko, you did a great job making it a popular and a really exciting event. As you may be aware, central Russian television channels always broadcast it.

Joint programmes for patriotic education of youth and preserving the memory of the Great Patriotic War are being implemented.

In closing, I would like to thank our Belarusian friends for their traditional warm hospitality, and wish every success to all the participants of today's event and all future participants of similar events.

Thank you.

June 8, 2016, Minsk