MINSK, 1 June (BelTA) – Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko hosted a meeting at the Palace of Independence on 1 June to discuss cooperation with Russia, BelTA has learned.
At the very beginning of the meeting, the head of state unexpectedly invited journalists to ask questions related to the agenda of the event if they needed to clarify anything (spoiler: such questions were asked).
“Of course, we made the headlines - both in terms of the form and the agenda,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said describing the way his talks with Vladimir Putin were covered by the media. “As it drew a lot of attention and sparked a lot of talks around the world, I decided to convene this meeting to discuss the matters we raised at the Sochi talks,” the president said.
The head of state noted that the agenda of his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin had been determined long ago and that this meeting was part of the continuous inter-state communication at various levels. Aleksandr Lukashenko had given a glimpse at the Sochi meeting agenda at the recent event at the government headquarters. The president had noted back then that at the meeting the two presidents would focus on trade and economy. “It was indeed so,” he said.
The two leaders discussed oil and gas supplies, including compensation for losses resulting from the Russian tax maneuver, cooperation in customs and taxation, and in the defense industry. They also touched upon the recent developments: response to sanctions, resumption of air service between the two countries, arrest of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega.
The matter of Russian oil supplies to Belarusian oil refineries took a new turn amidst U.S. sanctions prohibiting doing business with Naftan Oil Refinery.
“The governments had worked on this issue very seriously, and we agreed that there would be no problems with oil supplies. Russia benefits from it. We can process 22 million tonnes of oil. The Russian president pledged uninterrupted oil supplies to Belarusian refineries. The same way, there will be no problems with the supply of petroleum products to the Russian market and to other markets,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
According to the head of state, the amount of supplies will remain unchanged. An agreement in principle was reached at the meeting to minimize losses incurred by Belarusian refineries from Russia's tax maneuver starting from 1 January 2022. Governments were instructed to finalize this matter. “We found a solution to the tax maneuver. Not even we, but the governments, we just agreed on and approved it. We will keep negotiating this matter,” the president said.
“There are no problems with gas supplies. We will get as much as needed. However, this issue remains open. It has not been finalized in the sense that the president promised me to think how to help Belarus with the gas price in this situation,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Belarus and Russia are set to formalize these arrangements in an intergovernmental agreement.
Cooperation in customs administration
The two countries have long debated the convergence of their customs systems and laws. According to the Belarusian president, this is not the hottest issue. “We have worked a lot on this issue in the EAEU, and we, Belarus and Russia, have very similar customs legislation,” the head of state explained.
He is convinced that there is no need to create supranational bodies in this field. Perhaps it would be better to consider setting up a joint center that would have access to both Belarusian and Russian processes. The feasibility of this idea is yet to be discussed.
It was Russia that suggested converging the tax legislations. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, if this proposal materializes, the two countries will have an equal footing in this matter. “We will see how things are in Russia, and they will see how things are here. Trust is the necessary precondition to move forward,” he added.
Cooperation in the defense industry
The two countries see eye to eye with each other when it comes to cooperation in the defense industry and supply of weapons. “We did not discuss any permanent redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation or the creation of some kind of bases. It was not under discussion, and we do not even need it,” the Belarusian leader said.
At the same time, Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that Russia is close to Belarus, and if any suspicious military activity by NATO is spotted, allied units can be redeployed to Belarus within 24 hours. “In the event of escalation,” he added.
Joint response to sanctions
According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the presidents devoted a lot of time to discussing this matter. The heads of state agreed to find an algorithm for responding to restrictive measures imposed by the West. The Belarusian president instructed the government to deal with this matter as fast as possible. “The response should be reasonable, not hasty, we should not shoot ourselves in the foot, in the arm,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said addressing the prime minister.
International agenda and the fight against COVID-19
The heads of state also discussed the upcoming summit between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, the situation in Ukraine and the policy of its top officials. The presidents also discussed in detail the impacts of the pandemic.
“Those were the main topics raised at that meeting. I have a good impression from these negotiations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko concluded.