Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin held talks in the Kremlin on the evening of 9 September. The agenda of the meeting of the presidents of Belarus and Russia was widely discussed in the media space, as everyone anticipated the adoption of the Union State programs to take the Union State to a new level. Are we to expect a full-fledged common market? What prices of Russian energy carriers will be for Belarus? When will there be the single currency? What do these programs mean - integration or absorption? BelTA provides answers to the main questions about the talks between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Why did Belarus and Russia decide to develop Union State programs?
The work on these documents began some three years ago. Then, against the background of criticism about the lack of progress in the Union State, the parties developed more than 30 road maps. These documents, in fact, were just a kind of integration contours in certain areas. Later it was decided to give greater importance to this work. Therefore, each of today's programs, as Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the end of the meeting, is a specific action plan, according to which the countries intend to move forward.
How many Union State programs are there, and what do they cover?
There are 28 of them in total. These documents include the agreements on economic integration, which embraces common approaches to macroeconomic policies, monetary aspects, industrial and agrarian policies, customs administration, tax legislation, consumer protection, competition and trade.
The programs also deal with the energy industry, including the development of the common markets, nuclear energy. There is also a program devoted to common approaches in the work in the transport market. The Union State programs suggest unifying social and labor laws, ensuring equality of rights of citizens of Belarus and Russia, tourism sector.
Did the presidents agree on Union State programs?
Yes. At the very beginning of the meeting, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the adoption of the Union State programs would be a breakthrough. “I think we will work well. We may have less work left to do than during our previous meetings. Those lasted for a very long time. As long as five hours and even eight hours. Because back then we had to work like bulldozers in order to clear the road for the governments and experts,” said the president.
The heads of state did really well indeed. After the talks it became known that all 28 Union State programs had been agreed upon. Vladimir Putin was the first to announce it to the media. “I would like to note with satisfaction that all 28 programs have been agreed upon,” he said.
When will the Union State programs be officially approved?
The Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State are set to meet in Minsk on 10 September. The governments are expected to adopt these documents at the meeting. They will ‘finalize some points' and ‘agree on the finishing touches', as the Belarusian president put it. After that the Union State programs will be submitted for approval to the Supreme State Council of the Union State. Its session is scheduled for the end of the year.
Will Belarusian and Russian enterprises get equal rights?
Yes, they will. It is envisaged in the Union State programs. Equal rights for businesses is the main document which was considered during the talks in the Kremlin. The Belarusian head of state emphasized the importance of fair competition for all companies in the markets of Belarus and Russia.
“Those equal conditions various representatives of Belarus have talked about for many years, including me as the president. It is the underlying foundation. We are equal partners. It is for the sake of equality, profitable manufacturing cooperation, fruitful cooperation that Belarusian-Russian integration has been launched,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.
How will Russian energy prices for Belarus change?
The Union State programs also provide for a solution to the issue of energy supplies to Belarus. As for the near future, according to Vladimir Putin, mutually acceptable approaches to the gas issue have been developed following lengthy discussions. “The price Belarus will pay for Russian natural gas in 2022 will remain at this year's level. A document will be signed by 1 December 2023 on creating the common natural gas market within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” said the Russian president. Now Belarus pays $128.5 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, while the gas price has increased significantly in the European market up to $650.
The countries are also expected to sign an agreement on the unification of oil and oil products markets, and an agreement on a unified electricity market.
Did Belarus ask Russia for a new loan?
No. Such a question was not on the agenda of the talks. “I have to admit that I'd told him we don't need new loans if we could take some from the nuclear power plant project, for which we've been granted a certain loan (it is Russia's practice all over the world). If we save something, I asked him to give us the money we've saved as a loan. The answer was: we will think about it, it suits us if there are good, profitable projects for Belarus and Russia,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Belarus does not take large loans from Russia for now. Nevertheless, there will be some financial support. The volume of Russia's credit support to Belarus from September 2021 and till the end of 2022 will exceed $630 million.
What will be with Belarus-Russia military cooperation?
According to the presidents, it will continue developing. Aleksandr Lukashenko called the deepening of integration and the expansion of diversified cooperation in the Union State the most effective answer to illwishers.
Of course, during the meeting the heads of state discussed in detail current international issues, relations with neighboring countries and associations. The presidents also touched upon the situation in instability zones, first of all in Afghanistan, discussing possible threats to the security of the Union State. The leaders also talked over the Union State military exercise Zapad 2021.
“We will continue increasing our joint efforts to counter common challenges and threats,” said the Belarusian president.
When will the single currency be introduced in the Union State?
The presidents could not give a definite answer to this question at a meeting with journalists. According to the heads of state, the countries are not yet ready for this, and the introduction of a single currency is not the top priority today. However, a common macroeconomic policy, a common payment space and harmonization of monetary policy are in place for the further development of the Union State.
“Putin or Lukashenko slowing down these processes is not the issue. When we examined this problem, the Central Bank of Russia and the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus unanimously asked us to leave it be. They said that neither the central banks nor our countries were ready for it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko did not rule out the possibility that Belarus and Russia may return to this matter in the future. “Currency is not a problem. We've always stumbled over the matter of the single emission center. There are certain problems with it,” he explained.
What does Russia think about the migration crisis on the Belarusian-European border?
Vladimir Putin stated that some Western colleagues of his and European leaders had invited him to work together to resolve problems with migrants at the Belarusian border and had wanted him to somehow influence the situation. “The answer is simple: it does not concern us. It is not our border,” he noted.
He stressed that the migration crisis had emerged at the Belarusian border with other sovereign countries, this is why these countries should find solutions to problems on their own. “If they want to truly resolve the problem, they should contact Belarusian authorities at any level and resolve the problem together with the neighboring country,” the Russian leader said.
Are Union State programs a takeover of Belarus by Russia? Or maybe Belarus' takeover of Russia?
Aleksandr Lukashenko has repeatedly emphasized: the countries can build very close relations and there is no need to sacrifice sovereignty and independence. All the more so, these are immutable values for the Belarusian people.
“The president of Russia delicately did not mention various speculations about mergers and takeovers and so on. I should say that the president of Russia and I did not succumb to this disease. If someone did, we can fix them.,” Aleksandr Lukashenko briefly remarked after the talks.
Instead of an epilogue.After the meeting of the two presidents, it became known that Russia was lifting all COVID-19 restrictions on passenger flights with Belarus. This news was a surprise not only for journalists: during the talks Vladimir Putin forgot to inform his Belarusian counterpart about the recent decision of the government commission.
Before the pandemic, over 200 flights were performed between the countries every week. Now there are only 36 of them. The Russian president said it was unlikely for the two countries to get back to the pre-COVID level in two days. He expressed hope however that the recovery would be fast.