Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, lavished praise on the state of bilateral relations but made no mention of a $2-billion loan that Minsk had requested from Moscow after their hours-long talks near St. Petersburg, Russia, on March 15.
The Belarusian and Russian leaders had a face-to-face meeting before attending a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Belarusian-Russian Union State.
As a result of the meeting, the heads of state approved the Union State’s 2013 budget and signed a number of minor documents. In addition, the prime ministers of Belarus and Russia signed an agreement on cooperation in Antarctica.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr. Putin said that Russian businesses had already invested more than $5 billion in Belarus. "Most of the money is direct investments in the real sector of the Belarusian economy, in the creation of new manufacturing companies and new jobs," the Kremlin’s press office quoted him as saying. Mr. Putin added that the delegations had agreed at the meeting to continue prioritizing the economic aspect of integration between the two countries.
Mr. Putin said that he expected annual bilateral trade to reach $50 billion and said that the Union State’s 2013 budget, estimated at 4.8 billion Russian rubles ($156 million), would be used to make the Belarusian and Russian economies more competitive.
Mr. Putin also raised the subject of the construction of Belarus’ first-ever nuclear power plant, a project that is carried out by a Russian contractor with a Russian loan. He said that Russia would lend Belarus up to $10 billion for the project.
Mr. Lukashenka, for his part, emphasized the progress of the project, saying that construction work was being done ahead of schedule.
The Belarusian leader expressed gratitude to the Russian government’s members for their efficient work to prepare Union State talks and develop bilateral relations "at the highest level."
He said that 38 programs would receive funding out of the Union State budget this year. Most of the programs deal with innovation, he added.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that Moscow was considering Belarus’ request for a $2-billion loan. He added that the loan may not be needed if Belarus managed to sell state-owned property worth the amount to private investors this year.
Messrs. Lukashenka and Putin are likely to have discussed the matter but did not mention it while talking to reporters after the meeting.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant wrote on Saturday that no progress had been reached on the matter at the talks.