18 july 2012

Dmitry Medvedev and Mikhail Myasnikovich hold a joint news conference

“Today, Russian-Belarusian cooperation in all areas is very meaningful, open and effective,” the Russian prime minister said.


Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon. First I’d like to say a few words about our work today. I think that my visit to Belarus today was absolutely essential. We held several events today, each of which was very useful. I’m referring to the meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, bilateral talks with Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich, and the session of the Council of Ministers of the Union State that has just ended.

I must admit that our relations have had their ups and downs in the last few years. However, today the atmosphere was different thanks to our coordinated efforts. Russian-Belarusian cooperation in all areas is very meaningful, open and effective. I’m referring to our political contacts, economic relations, and cultural and other cooperation. Naturally, today we discussed mostly trade and economic relations and issues, and I’d like to repeat the figure that has already been mentioned – our trade stands at $38 billion. This is a record in the history of bilateral relations, including the Union State. We have reached this figure for several reasons.

First, we have stepped up our cooperation in general. Second, the formation of the Customs Union has promoted trade. For all the allegations about the Customs Union, it is yielding concrete dividends to its participants. This is the best proof that integration is much more effective than isolated economic activity. This is why we are content with the level of bilateral economic contacts.

We have a number of major projects and have just launched the biggest one. I’m referring to the construction of a nuclear power plant. Total investment is $10 billion. This is an unprecedented sum and the biggest investment in Belarus. Mr Myasnikovich and I discussed different projects today and agreed that some are slower than others and must be pushed along, but I hope that this project will act as an engine driving other projects along – projects that may not be as large but are no less important. Both our governments must focus their efforts on this goal. I had an extensive and substantive discussion with the president of the Republic of Belarus. We have discussed a variety of issues, including major and minor ones, which created a favourable atmosphere or rather gave a powerful impetus to bilateral relations and the subsequent meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State.

We covered a lot of questions – 23 in all – during the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State. Frankly, media representatives can count and see for themselves that it took us little time to address them. This means only one thing: these issues have been agreed, and we do not have topics that would require many hours of discussion. This wasn’t always the case. I remember meetings of the Supreme State Council that lasted for 10-12 hours. I am quite satisfied with the degree of preparation and coordination of the issues, for which I thanked our Belarusian friends. I said that I was satisfied with the work done by the secretary of the Union State Mr Rapota. In general, the machine that should produce decisions is fully operational now.

I would like to mention a pleasant, in my opinion, fact mentioned by our Belarusian friends: for the first time in the history of the Council of Ministers of the Union State the resolutions were signed on the day of their adoption.

Remark: All of them.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes. I am in favour of such a painstaking approach to business. I hope that future meetings of the Council of Ministers will be held in the same style. I would like to sincerely thank our Belarusian friends for the atmosphere and the substance of the talks and for the invitation extended to the Russian delegation. I am hopeful that we will maintain our constructive cooperation in the future.

Mikhail Myasnikovich: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that we had very constructive and intensive talks indeed. Notably, we did not avoid the complicated issues.

Media insinuations about Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organisation abound. Often, they say that Belarus will be put at a disadvantage as a result. I must say that this is not the case. We have looked into these complicated issues, discussed them and instantly took decisions that make us confident that trade, economic and investment cooperation will be expanding in the future. There are no threats to economic, trade or sovereign functions and activities.

I am very grateful to Mr Medvedev that in addition to trade and economic cooperation... By the way, we have foreign trade statistics for the five months of 2012: there has been 25% growth relative to last year’s base, which was already high. This indicates that the base is really good and that we have discussed and taken a decision on stepping up the investment and, most importantly, our innovative cooperation with an eye to the future. This is not simply new breakthrough technology, it’s also important for consolidating the national security of our two states. I think we have good prospects and a positive future. Importantly, the decisions that have been made for the Union State have been supported by allocations from our union budget. The cost of the programmes we have adopted today is running into half a billion U.S. dollars. In this respect I’d like to thank the experts who have meticulously prepared the agenda for the issues pertaining to the Union State and our negotiating positions. Mr Medvedev, I’m also grateful to you for our constructive conversation and for resolving these issues. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Question: Mr Myasnikovich has already answered my question in principle but I’d still like to hear what Mr Medvedev has to say. Literally last week the State Duma ratified the protocol on Russia’s accession to the WTO. We’d like to congratulate you on this occasion, but we’d still like to hear what your priorities are. What does Russia consider more important –to observe its commitments to the WTO or the principles of the Common Economic Space? And what will happen to the Customs Union? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. The Federation Council has also ratified this protocol. The Russian Federation will have only one priority – its own national interests. I think this should be obvious to you. Every country must think about its national interests, no matter how close or fraternal its relations with another country might be (I’m referring to Belarus in this case).

As for choosing between the WTO on the one hand, and the Union State and the Customs Union on the other, strictly speaking, this is not a problem. In planning our accession to the WTO we formulated our positions with a view to ensuring our own economic interests and protecting as much as possible the interests of our closest partners, above all, Belarus. We have spoken a lot about this today and it is the truth. Mr Myasnikovich also just mentioned it.

We are still able to defend our markets as a WTO member. Moreover, in the future Belarus and Kazakhstan will also join the WTO – the latter is practically there now. After all, what is the WTO? Political labels aside, this is a club whose members must observe certain economic rules. All of us want to develop a normal, civilised market economy and live by the rules so that our people can enjoy a higher income, develop business and resolve social issues.

This is actually the basic reason we joined the WTO. I’d like to emphasise once again that we’ll do everything we can to protect our sovereign economic interests and create normal conditions for economic cooperation with our closest partners in the Union State and in the Customs Union.

Question: You talked a lot today about integration processes in the economy. The first nuclear energy project has already been launched, and you said that others will follow. I am sure that you discussed the establishment of other joint ventures, such as the one between MAZ and KamAZ. Has there been any progress in this area? Have any policy decisions been made? Is there an understanding of the terms that should form the basis for such joint ventures? What are the prospects for joint ventures between, say, the Urals Potash Company and the Belarusian Potash Company or between Gomselmash and Rostselmash in agricultural engineering? Perhaps you can name others that have appeared on the agenda for the first time today?

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s an extensive list you’ve given us. If all of that comes to pass, then we’ll be talking about a whole new level of integration. Mr Myasnikovich, perhaps you should speak first.

Mikhail Myasnikovich: All right.

Dmitry Medvedev: Please go ahead.

Mikhail Myasnikovich: We did discuss these issues. I am very satisfied that we have identified a mechanism for moving forward. A Russian government delegation led by the Russian Minister of Industry will soon be coming to Belarus. We will try to implement the political agreement which we have at the presidential and prime ministerial levels. We have identified the approaches and will now work on the details. I believe that this will be a real step forward, when we go from talks to real work.

It is also important that this is not just a unification process imposed from above. This is about creating modern transnational corporations which will not engage in trading with each other, but will instead manufacture products that will be in the full sense of the word the output of the Customs Union. I believe that this is the whole point of the integration process and all the processes associated with it.

Dmitry Medvedev: I will add just a few words so that it doesn’t look as if we are only in favour of cooperation in general, but without providing specific details about anything. Of course, people tend to keep things secret during negotiations (I hope you understand), but speaking about the joint venture between MAZ and KamAZ, I believe that the two sides have largely agreed their positions and made good progress on the creation of the joint venture. Of course, there are issues that must be finalised, because we are talking here about joining together the interests of several states and several companies: on the one hand, of course, the interests of Belarus, on the other hand, those of Russia and KamAZ, a Russian company, which the German company Daimler also has a stake in. So, it's quite a painstaking negotiation process, which I hope will be completed within a relatively short period of time.

As far as the project involving the Belarusian Potash Company is concerned, this is a private matter involving a Russian company which is in talks with the Belarusian side. Of course, the priorities here are determined by the national priorities of Belarus and the commercial considerations and preferences of the Russian company. I understand that this project involves two components. On the one hand, the project is about joint sales and marketing, which is really important for the producers of potassium fertilisers in Belarus and Russia. On the other hand, it is about possible participation in privatisation deals, provided the Belarusian state and government decide to go ahead with them. It is entirely within the competence of our Belarusian friends, but, on the other hand, it would be disingenuous on my part not to mention that I believe that it’s high time for our Belarusian friends to take appropriate action. There’s no way around this. Another important factor is that this needs to be done, of course, in the interests of Belarus and the Belarusian people; this is the sovereign right of every state.

We are making progress on other projects as well. We discussed various aspects of cooperation in the area of agricultural engineering. In some areas we have a real chance to agree on things, in others not so much, but the negotiations will continue.

Question: Mr Medvedev, to continue the subject that you have already touched on about the establishment of a joint potassium company ... Yesterday Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that the interests of the Belarusian Potash Company should be preserved and the company itself should also be preserved as an independent entity during the implementation of this project. Mr Medvedev, do you believe that this project can be implemented and the balance of interests be maintained?

Dmitry Medvedev: I feel exactly the same way as President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. This is a Belarusian company and Belarusians should determine what is to be done with it. Of course, the fate of this plant is in the hands of the Belarusian state, the Belarusian president and the Belarusian government. Please keep in mind that any deal can only be of interest if it’s based on real market approaches. You can’t sell something if nobody wants it. Therefore, in formulating the terms of privatisation, if it ever comes to it (I don’t know what the final plans of the Belarusian government are in this regard), I think we should focus not only on the significance of this asset for Belarus, which is very important, but also bear in mind the real market situation, the possibility of selling an asset at market prices based on market conditions. If these two factors coincide, then such a deal could become a reality.

Question: Today we have repeatedly heard that there are difficult but solvable problems, but little has been said on the specifics of these problems. May I ask you to go into more detail about the issue of solvents, that is petroleum products which our experts believe to be Russian and the Belarusians consider to be theirs. Is this a complicated issue?

Mikhail Myasnikovich: We actually discussed this topic and agreed on further steps in order to achieve total clarity for today and for the future. So I believe we share the concern expressed by the Russian side, and we are in favour of working out a constructive and workable scheme.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can only add that we all agreed to sort out all the issues thoroughly, and once we have done that we will take the appropriate decisions, even if they are difficult. If we find out that rules were broken, the culprits will be held accountable and economic interests will be restored. Thank you.

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