Lukašenka, Putin fail to resolve key differences at St. Petersburg talks

No breakthrough decisions were made by Aliaksandr Lukašenka and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Saint Petersburg on December 20, with a Russian minister announcing after the talks that the countries had yet to agree on the terms of oil and gas supply and resolve differences over a draft deal in the sphere of taxation.

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Speaking following the meeting, Maksim Oreshkin, Russia’s minister of economic development, said that the talks had been held “in the framework of the agreements that were reached [at the previous meeting between the heads of state] in Sochi [on December 7].”

“The presidents gave a number of instructions and we made yet another step forward in terms of resolving differences,” said the minister, noting that deals aimed at deeper integration between the two countries in the spheres of agriculture, communications, customs and alcohol trade had been fully agreed.

Mr. Oreshkin said that differences over oil and gas supply and taxation remained the only stumbling block to a comprehensive deal on advanced integration. “These three groups of issues have to be resolved to finalize all roadmaps,” he said, adding that the two countries had drawn up a total of 31 roadmaps for deeper integration in various spheres.

Speaking at the 90-minute meeting that preceded a session of the Eurasian Economic Union’s Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, Mr. Putin hailed the degree of integration that Russia and Belarus had achieved since signing their 1999 Union State Treaty.

Bilateral trade has jumped from $9 billion in 1999 to $35.5 billion, said the Russian president. “Apart from this, there are issues that we have resolved in the social sphere, which is good support for people,” he said. “And finally the experience that our two states gained while building this interstate grouping has been widely used in the establishment of other groupings, including the EAEU.”

Mr. Putin warned at a marathon news conference on December 19 that Russia may start selling natural gas to Belarus at its domestic prices only if the governments of both countries delegated vast powers to supranational bodies.

The Russian leader stressed that Belarus could enjoy subsidized gas only if the two countries adopted “common rules in the form of laws, including in the sphere of taxation, in the sphere of the policy of subsidization, in the sphere of payments out of budgets at different levels to support some sectors or other.” To this end, he warned, Russia and Belarus need to have a single money-issuing authority and a single audit chamber and pursue a single antimonopoly policy “and maybe even have a single [antimonopoly] body.”