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News conference following Russian-Belarusian talks

February 18, 2022, The Kremlin, Moscow

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

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

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the Republic of Belarus for accepting my invitation and coming to Moscow today.

We understand that the President has a very busy schedule right now, in connection with the necessary preparations for an important domestic event: the upcoming nationwide referendum of the new version of the Belarusian Constitution on February 27. Of course, we wish our Belarusian friends success in holding it.

Let me note that our talks today were held in a constructive, business-like and friendly atmosphere, like we have had for many, many years.

As both sides have stressed many times, Russia and Belarus are good neighbours, close allies and strategic partners. We are deeply connected by a common history, moral values and family ties. Diverse bilateral cooperation is always built on the principles of mutual respect, support and consideration of each other’s interests.

Of course, we have always paid and will pay special attention to the expansion of trade and economic ties. Despite the coronavirus-related difficulties, trade is growing: it increased by more than a third in 2021, or 34.4 percent, and amounted to a significant amount of US$38.5 billion.

Almost half of all products manufactured in Belarus are exported to Russia, and Russia is a leading investor in the real sector of the Belarusian economy. Russian investment accounts for about 30 percent of total foreign investment in Belarus. And we will certainly try to create even more comfortable conditions for the business communities of the two countries and encourage entrepreneurial initiatives.

Of course, matters related to building the Union State and promoting integration within it were among the central topics in our talks with the President of Belarus.

We carefully studied the progress of implementing the strategic decisions approved at the November 4, 2021, meeting of the Union State Supreme State Council. We also discussed efforts to implement the 28 sectoral programmes of the Union and in general the provisions of the Treaty Establishing the Union State. During the talks, we noted that the 28 programmes we are talking about build on our long-standing cooperation and integration efforts in the relevant fields.

Both sides noted that relevant agencies of Russia and Belarus have been working together effectively on promoting integration across the board. The high-level group for coordinating our integration cooperation has been gathering momentum. It held a regular meeting in mid-December.

Our respective governments have also maintained close contact. Let me remind you that our prime ministers held eight meetings last year. In fact, they remain in touch constantly, almost on a weekly basis, if necessary.

Of course, Mr Lukashenko and I keep the implementation of integration-related process under our personal control. We can outline several areas where we have achieved tangible progress recently.

In particular, in the transport and logistics sector there was a significant increase in transits of Belarusian exports in many categories across Russian territory to third countries. We will continue our consistent efforts to build a common freight and passenger market within the Union State.

In the lending and financial sector, we have been cooperating to overcome and minimise the consequences of illegitimate sanctions imposed by some countries with a view to worsening the socioeconomic situation in our countries.

In addition, we have been working on integrating our payment systems and creating a new payment framework, as well as harmonising tax, customs, and labour laws of the two countries, and unifying our markets in the gas, oil, petrochemical, and electric power sectors.

I would like to note that our joint efforts to implement the economic agenda of the Union State are ultimately designed to ensure economic growth and to improve the living standards of our people.

Our other major integration projects have the same goals. I am referring to the Eurasian Economic Union, in the framework of which we are creating a truly common Eurasian market for goods, services, capital and workforce. It is important that all EAEU member states feel the practical effects of these processes.

During our talks today we had an in-depth discussion on strengthening the common defence space of Russia and Belarus. We have agreed to continue taking the necessary collective measures to ensure the security of our two states in light of the growing military activity of the NATO states on the external border of the Union State.

In this context, we praised the Allied Resolve 2022 military exercises, the active phase of which will run until February 20 in Belarus. I would like to point out that these exercises are purely defensive and do not threaten anyone. As you know, the defence ministries of our two states in due time announced the essence and goals of these planned – I would like to emphasise this – planned manoeuvres. As the President of Belarus, who attended them, said today, many foreign representatives and military attachés are attending the exercises and can see the whole thing with their own eyes.

Responding to a request from President Lukashenko, I talked about my recent meetings with foreign leaders on the provision by the US and NATO of long-term and legally binding security guarantees for Russia. We believe it is both logical and understandable that this issue also concerns our Belarussian allies.

We discussed the situation with Russia’s requests for the West, the most important of which concern NATO’s non-expansion, the non-deployment of strike weapons systems in close proximity to the Russian border, and the return of the bloc’s military potential and infrastructure in Europe to the state of 1997 when the Russia-NATO Founding Act was signed.

As I said earlier, unfortunately, the United States and other members of the alliance do not appear ready to sincerely consider these three pivotal elements of our initiative. At the same time, they have advanced a number of ideas of their own concerning European security, specifically, intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, and military transparency, which Russia is open to discussing. We are ready to continue the negotiation track provided that all items are considered in their entirety, in conjunction with Russia’s main proposals, which are an unconditional priority for us.

President Lukashenko and I touched on the intra-Ukrainian conflict as well. The settlement process remains stalled; despite all our efforts, neither the contacts at the level of advisers to the leaders of the Normandy Format countries nor the consultations with our partners are helping.

Kiev is not complying with the Minsk Agreements and, in particular, is strongly opposed to a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. Kiev is essentially sabotaging the agreements on amending the Constitution, on the special status of Donbass, on local elections and on amnesty – on all the key items in the Minsk Agreements. Besides, basically, human rights are massively and systematically violated in Ukraine, and discrimination against the Russian-speaking population is being fixed at the legislative level.

The President of Belarus and I agreed that the Minsk Agreements are the key to restoring civil peace in Ukraine and relieving tension around that country. All Kiev needs to do is sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of Donbass and agree on political, military, economic and humanitarian measures to end the conflict. The sooner this happens, the better. Unfortunately, right now, we are witnessing the opposite – the situation in Donbass is worsening.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr Lukashenko for our productive cooperation. I am confident that today’s talks will serve to further strengthen the entire scope of allied relations between Russia and Belarus. Tomorrow, as we agreed, we will take part in several regular events related to our joint military activities.

Go ahead please, Mr President.

President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: Friends,

Our meeting with President Putin is taking place against the backdrop of an unprecedented escalation of military-political tensions in the world, as the President just said.

Considering the urgency of the situation, the President and I have devoted much attention today to this issue and discussed potential joint actions as a response to the aggressive behaviour of our Western partners. I would like to emphasise once again: nobody wants a war, or even an aggravation of the situation or any conflict. We, Russians and Belarusians, do not need this.

As people well versed in this issue, you probably understand that this no longer depends even on our neighbours, including Ukraine. You also see clearly who the escalation of tensions near our borders depends on. For the first time in decades, we have found ourselves on the threshold of a conflict that could, unfortunately, pull much of the entire continent into a maelstrom.

We are seeing the irresponsibility and, excuse me for being blunt, stupidity of some Western politicians at its best. There is no logic or reasonable explanation for the conduct of the leaders of neighbouring countries, their truly morbid desire to walk the edge.

The President of Russia has very mildly described the aggravation of the situation in Donbass. Unfortunately, it is true. People there are ready to flee the area and are probably already fleeing, as we know. This is not normal. I have the impression that some politicians who hold high and responsible positions in the so-called free world are simply pathologically dangerous to both their associates and, most importantly, to their own people.

As you heard, Union Resolve 2022, Belarusian-Russian joint military exercises, will end in a few days. Tomorrow, Mr Putin and I will hold joint events in the Russian Federation, about which the media will be informed.

As for the 2022 exercises that are nearing completion, I explained the basic point of this. The President just talked about it: given the growing military threat on our borders and the pumping of Ukraine with weapons, Belarus and Russia are compelled to look for adequate means of repelling a potential attack on their borders, including on our borders, the southern borders for Belarus. There is nothing surprising about this, we are looking at these borders in the south of Belarus – they are almost 1,500 km long. We are concentrating on this to defend ourselves; we are looking for points where we should basically build our defences.

Belarus and the Russian Federation have a common air defence system, a joint regional military force, that is, a joint army, joint training centres, and finally, there is the Military Doctrine of the Union State. We have never hidden these documents or these areas of activity from anyone, everyone knows this.

This is why it was our joint situational decision to hold these exercises. We conduct these exercises as transparently as possible in our own territory; we are not hiding anything from anyone; everything happens in full view of an entire army of attachés and the press.

In talking about foreign policy we have not forgotten the Union State integration process. Four and a half months have passed since the Declaration of the Union State Supreme State Council was signed. It approved the main directions for the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty Establishing the Union State for 2021–2023 as well as the 28 Union State programmes.

These programmes are about 30 percent complete. A lot has been said about what has been done under these programmes and how, as Mr President said just now. In particular, we are focusing on the following areas: taxation, customs cooperation, and establishing a common gas market.

By the way, those who have moved the war of sanctions to the front lines will suffer equally, if not much more. This is a subject that President Putin and I have paid special attention to because this banditry and attempt to impose an economic war on us – it has already broken out – has cost us a lot. Of course, we have already learned how to counter the sanctions; as we have said, we have become stronger, as our bilateral trade shows. Nevertheless, we still have to focus a lot on countering the pressures of the sanctions. We have discussed this in detail.

I am grateful to the President of Russia – to you, Mr Putin – for the instructions you have just passed to the Russian leadership in my presence, without hiding anything. I would like to thank you for this.

It is clear that we, Russians and Belarusians, will survive this hybrid war. We can see how our cooperation has improved in industry; there are dozens of new goods in the structure of our trade; and foreign trade is diversifying. The world is big: you can’t lock all the gates and you can’t block all transport routes.

Another part of our talks was devoted to the economy. It is gratifying that we did so well last year. Despite the pandemic and various virus strains, we increased our trade to almost 40 billion. And this is something to be taken into account, and then exports and imports between people – there are no borders between Belarus and Russia – this is billions of dollars too. It is important that both the Belarusian and Russian economies grew throughout the year in terms of gross domestic product, industrial production, and in many other areas of the real sector of the economy.

Of course, we talked more about problem areas not about our successes. There are fewer of them, but they still exist. We discussed measures to support the economy, strengthen financial stability, increase business activity, and develop cooperation.

Naturally, I informed the President of Russia of how Belarus is preparing for the most important political event – the constitutional referendum. We will hold it with dignity, in the interests of the Belarusian people, and this will in no way contradict our relations with brotherly Russia.

The West is actively trying if not to destabilise then to at least aggravate the situation in the country with the help of our defectors. However, they have no illusions that the events of August 2020 will be repeated. This is important because it strengthens our confidence that together we will be able to overcome the most difficult situations, confront any challenge or threat and build a common future. And no one should expect us to back down from any difficulty, challenge or problem.

Let me repeat what I just said: we do not want war, but if someone refuses to be still, our response will be asymmetric. Anyone in the world can understand this. And in this situation, in protecting the security of our peoples in our states, we will act appropriately.

The President of Russia noted, and I absolutely agree with him: they are trying to tear us apart, to separate us, not only Russia and Belarus, but all those states that are set on unity. This is the wrong approach: it will never work. Kazakhstan is evidence of this. We appreciate that.

Thank you for your attention.

Kommersant newspaper correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov: You recently said that if the West remains aggressive, you will be an eternal president. In this connection, how do you assess the Belarusian people’s chances of losing you? I think they are increasingly more negligible.

And a question for the President of Russia. Mr President, how did you “survive” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the previous night?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Let me go first, if you do not mind.

I just did not pay attention to it. There is a lot of fake news, and constantly reacting to it is not worth it.

We are doing what we feel we need to do, and we will keep going this way. Of course, we are watching the developments in the world and around us; however, we have clear and understandable benchmarks corresponding to the national interests of the Russian people and the Russian state.

Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, we did not invade Ukraine, and the poor things are so upset, they are looking for a new pretext to push Ukraine into some sort of provocations.

As to my, pardon me, tenure in office, we will just discuss it with the elder brother and make a decision. Why are you worrying? Everything will be all right. As to your words (you said it right, I am even surprised that these words come from Kommersant) that those people’s chances of breaking Belarusians’ forces are negligible as you said. It cannot be said any better.

And they will get more negligible further, they will not make it. And it has nothing to do with the Belarusian people, that we are allegedly a dictatorship and bend, pressure and persecute. It is fiction. Nobody pressures or persecutes anyone – we are just appropriately responding to those who push, used to push, towards a coup d’état in Belarus. That is the agenda as it is. They wanted to repeat exactly what they did in Ukraine; they failed and will fail again. I had a reason to mention Kazakhstan, it included.

Alyona Syrova: STV Channel.

Mr Lukashenko, Mr Putin, my question is addressed to both of you.

You mentioned in your speeches the sanction war waged against us and against you. We see the pressure being systematically ramped up. The latest is the closure of potassium fertiliser transit. Russia is being threatened with preventive sanctions never seen before.

And here is the question in this regard. Mr Lukashenko, you said a number of decisions and orders have been made right now, during the talks. How do you see possible anti-sanction counteractions? We often say that the power is in cooperation in the context of integration, so in the context of countering the sanctions, where is cooperation and who can help us here?

Vladimir Putin: We must help ourselves in this respect, and this is the goal of our current meeting. We primarily focused, as Mr Lukashenko has already said, on economic issues, on issues of economic cooperation.

The President of Belarus was very eloquent. He said the world is big, and one cannot put a lock on everything. This is exactly what it is in reality, and I join this assessment. We talked about the entire range of problems, including the one you mentioned. I will not go into detail now, but there is always a solution.

As for what direction we should move in overall – I have already talked about this and would like to emphasise it again. First, this sanctions pressure is absolutely illegitimate. This is a gross violation of international law. Those who talk about this law care about it only when they stand to benefit. When there is nothing to gain, they conveniently forget all norms of international public law. We understand this perfectly well. Unfortunately, we have lived in this paradigm for many, many years because the powers that be believe they run the show and always interpret everything in their own favour, ignoring the interests of others. The only way out is to grow stronger from within, primarily in the economy.

You are talking about sanctions. They will be imposed in any event. Whether there is some excuse today, for instance, linked with the events in Ukraine, or there is no excuse – one will be found because the goal is different. The goal is to impede the development, in this case, of Russia and Belarus. Those who pursue this objective will always come up with an excuse to introduce various restrictions. I will repeat that these restrictions are illegitimate. They amount to unfair competition.

In fact, this is the whole point. In the past eight years, Russia has done much in this area, and this is called import substitution. We have not done everything we planned, but we have accomplished more than 90 percent of the tasks we set for ourselves. We still have to do more, and this is called enhancing economic sovereignty.

Many countries of the world, even US allies, are facing today’s restrictions. But they simply shut their mouth and bear it. As I said many, many years ago, nobody likes this. Nobody likes secondary sanctions or direct sanctions pressure. This boil will certainly burst eventually.

It is important for us today to enhance our economic sovereignty and be more competent and up to date. We must give new impetuses to the modern areas of economic progress: digitalisation, artificial intelligence and genetics, to name a few. This is a complicated and big job – it is impossible to resolve this issue overnight, but we must move in this direction.

The integration processes we are dealing with are aimed at precisely this goal – to become more competitive. Proceeding from this, we will be striving to improve the living standards of our people.

I think this is all that may be said in the format of a news conference.

Alexander Lukashenko: What was the general idea for our talks? In short, we mostly talked about economic issues, including pressure from the sanctions. The President just said what it was about: no matter what we do and no matter how hard we try to do anything – though we think, first, in terms of our interests and our people and so on – they will find a pretext for pushing this economic war further, regardless. These are not simply sanctions – rather, an economic war unleashed against our alliance – this is the gist of the matter.

As for some details, the Russian President preferred to omit them – some particularly important issues were discussed in detail. For example, you raised the issue of potassium fertilisers: I am grateful to the President for his instructions, as I requested.

We need a port. In violation of international agreements, we have been denied access to the ports we used to use. This is not the right approach: no country that has a coast has the right to cut access to the sea to a landlocked country. Take Russia, which has an outlet to the sea – it does not deny anyone access to the sea. Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine have closed their routes to the sea [for us]. This is a violation. I just wanted to refresh your memory.

The Russian President issued an instruction – I asked him about this – to let Russia help us, without foot-dragging and red tape, to build a port terminal for our use near St Petersburg and use it to tranship millions of tonnes of cargo; it is not a matter of funding – we have money to do this. He gave instructions in my presence to begin construction without delay. We will tranship millions of tonnes of cargo over 12 to 18 months – I do not know how long exactly; you can ask the ambassador who is sitting over there and who has been dealing with this issue. But if we withdraw from Ukraine and Lithuania – revenue from the transhipment of our cargo used to make up 30 percent of the latter’s budget – we will never go back.

We will hold out. It was the right thing to say that no matter what the situation is like, sanctions also mean new opportunities and, most importantly, the opportunity to engage in import substitution – we will make do. President Putin says that [Russia’s import substitution objectives] have been 90 percent achieved, so cooperation between Belarus and Russia will take care of the remaining 10 percent. We will find a way out of this situation one way or another. Even when it comes to the most sensitive things for us, Belarusians and especially Russians, like the most cutting-edge and sophisticated technologies. We can produce anything.

Which country was the first to release a vaccine when the pandemic started? It was Russia. Russia supplied the vaccine to Belarus and then we started producing it. The Russian President said: “You did well!” We have already produced about 2.5 million doses in Belarus using Russian technology. We are also developing our own technology. Have we coped with this? We have. We will also cope with other issues.

Thank you.

February 18, 2022, The Kremlin, Moscow