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Valentina Matviyenko about Forum of Regions, love for Belarusian meat products and textiles

The Eurasian Economic Union is young, but not too agile, since it is hard to harmonize the national interests of several countries. It is sometimes difficult for two nations to agree, let alone five. Although regions of Belarus and Russia very well cope with it in trade without intermediaries. The Third Forum of Regions will be held in Minsk next week. The main organizers of the event are the upper houses of parliament. We talked with Chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of Russia Valentina Matviyenko about the successes and challenges.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Ms Matviyenko, hello!

Valentina Matviyenko, Chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation:
Hello!

Yuri Koziyatko:
We meet today in Moscow and next week you arrive in Minsk to participate in the Forum of Regions. Will the President of Russia come to Belarus?

Valentina Matviyenko:
We are looking forward to his arrival in Belarus, our brotherly country. The fact that the presidents of our countries take part in inter-regional cooperation forums suggest that they attach great importance to this format of our cooperation, which gives really good practical results in the development of our multilateral, multifaceted cooperation between Russia and Belarus.

Yuri Koziyatko:
At the first forum agricultural policy was discussed, while the second forum was devoted to industry. This time, social matters will be the priority, won't they? Is this a planned topic? Or is it simply because there is nothing positive going on in the economic field? Times are not very simple in Belarus and Russia. And the turnover is falling.

Valentina Matviyenko:
The fact that the economic situation is not easy does not mean that we should pay less attention to the well-being of our citizens. After all, we are developing the economy and our cooperation for the sake of our people, so that they live better. These areas play an equally important role, on a par with economic, scientific-technical and other ties. Since we (Belarus and Russia - note by en.ctv.by) are building a single Union State, we should try to create uniform equal social conditions, the conditions of social protection of our people: equal access to education, to health care. We must ensure civilized labor migration and so on. At the regional level, it is important to take the same appropriate measures. First, we would like to discuss how to harmonize our legislation; what legislative and practical steps we need today to improve the standard of living of our people, to create equal conditions for them. Maybe sometime in the future we will achieve common social standards. With regard to the fall in turnover, then yes, that is the case. There are many factors of objective and subjective nature: the devaluation of our currency, and in general - very difficult global economic conditions. Our turnover fell by 15%, but I would not say that this is something very painful. We understand why this is happening and, most importantly, we know what to do to remedy this situation. After all, during the 25 years we have built our Union State - a highly integrated complex structure, though this is not an entirely single state. The strong cooperation ties between companies have become stabilizers and have prevented the worst development scenario for our economies. On the contrary, Russia's economy and the economy of Belarus have not collapsed in spite of the difficulties experienced by state-owned companies, businesses, and our citizens. And we believe that this is a temporary phenomenon. We still have a huge potential to boost not only bilateral trade, which is important, but also the diversification of mutual trade, the implementation of our cooperation in the form of joint projects. After all, more than 2,500 enterprises with Russian capital are operating in Belarus. Also, Belarusian capital is working in the Russian economy. We in no way should lose sight of the entire range of issues, on the contrary, we need to increase efforts to overcome it. I think that the great experience in dealing with such difficulties is our great political capital. And most importantly - there is the will of our heads of state to deepen and expand our cooperation in all areas, in all directions.

Yuri Koziyatko:
You said about the diversification of the economy, but it is still possible to diversify markets and partners. Belarus, for various reasons, trades not only with Russia but also with the European Union. And we are looking for new markets in faraway countries. And sometimes caustic tongues allege that Belarus started to build relationships with Europe, sanctions against Belarus were canceled while they are in force against Russia, and the government of Russia is concerned about that. Is this true? Or are these only talks of some enemies of Belarus and Russia?

Valentina Matviyenko:
It is true that these are caustic tongues. And these people are not very competent. After all, our cooperation between Belarus and Russia in the framework of the Union State and the Eurasian Economic Union is not directed against anyone. It is aimed at the interests of our countries. In this sense, it does not mean that Russia, Belarus and other states should be focused only on themselves. We need to develop relations with all other countries, but under certain conditions: that it will be a mutually beneficial partnership, that the interests of different states will be mutually respected. After all, you know, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Union State are formed on absolutely equal terms, there are no juniors and seniors there. The Eurasian Economic Union is open to cooperation with other states. And we are already implementing this in practice. We already signed the first agreement on the creation of a single trade zone with Vietnam; we are negotiating with a number of countries who are interested in and see the prospects of the Eurasian Economic Union, who are interested in developing relations with it. Belarus and Russia are developing relations with the European Union. Yes, maybe these relations are going through hard times, but still, these times will pass, it is beneficial to Europe, it is beneficial to Belarus, Russia, it should be done, but certainly not to the detriment of the commitments taken by Belarus and Russia in framework of the Union State and the Eurasian Economic Union agreements. Such cooperation is beneficial, useful, and there is no doubt in this case that every sovereign state has the right to develop the beneficial relations.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Before the start of the EEU summit the Russian President met with the President of Kazakhstan. And Mr Putin said that "Kazakhstan is our closest partner and a reliable ally." Immediately it was remembered that at a forum in Sochi the Russian President said that Belarus is Russia’s closest ally and reliable partner. Does one not exclude the other?

Valentina Matviyenko:
Sure. If the five states decided to create a single Eurasian Economic Union, then these are close states, they are the closest partners. And, of course, we consider them as such. Otherwise one would not be able to interbreed a hedgehog with a gentle doe. This means there is the basis for such a union; there is trust; there is mutual respect, historical roots and economic benefits. And, of course, there is integration of economic potentials of all states - someone is better developed today, someone is less but the participation in the Union will make the economies more equal. The Union of these states has a huge potential, and it makes each of our states more competitive. Therefore, I don't see any contradictions.

Yuri Koziyatko:
You said that many countries are interested in the EEU. An agreement on free trade was signed with Vietnam. Maybe we should organize the forum of regions within the EEU? It was you who suggested the idea, if I am not mistaken. You said it is necessary to hold such a joint forum in which Kazakhstan and Belarus, and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union will participate. Is it real? I am asking because even 1.5 years later, there are some contradictions among EEU nations.

Valentina Matviyenko:
You know, I would not say that there are contradictions within the EEU.

Yuri Koziyatko:
But there are many unresolved issues.

Valentina Matviyenko:
And it is absolutely normal: a little more than a year has passed since the date of the union's formation, since the signing of the agreement on the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union. Of course, there are still many unresolved issues, problems, but they are being discussed in normal regime, without confrontation, without forcing anyone. Note that all decisions in the EEU are taken by consensus, unlike in other regional integration organizations. When it comes to forums and regions, I want to say that interregional and cross-border cooperation does facilitate integration; it promotes the unifying processes erasing boundaries and giving very tangible practical results. After all, if we look at the volume of mutual trade of Russia with Belarus, with Kazakhstan, we will see that cross-border inter-regional cooperation makes up a very big share of entire trade between these countries, because it is devoid of excessive centralized bureaucracy. This is eye-to-eye cooperation. It is more pragmatic. Regions are more interested, they feel the need for a particular subject. No accident that the majority of subjects of the Russian Federation already have agreements with Belarus. Look what breakthrough we made in bilateral trade, and the Belarusian economy feels it, because Belarusian agricultural products are in great demand in the market of Russia, in particular thanks to taste.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Have you tasted anything Belarusian?

Valentina Matviyenko:
Not only tasted... I like Belarusian meat products, you know… That forgotten natural taste of meat… And indeed these are very tasty products. Not only agricultural products but also the light industry of Belarus. Today, these are natural fabrics that are fashionable, stylish, beautiful and comfortable. I have a few things that I'm happy to wear, because I love them. Therefore, in this sense, Russia and the Eurasian market gives Belarus great opportunities. Increase in interregional cooperation is an important task within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. This brings our states closer. This creates legal mechanisms, specific formats of integration. As for the idea to hold such a forum of interregional cooperation of the Eurasian Economic Union, I think this is the good, the right idea, and it will be implemented when time comes.

Yuri Koziyatko:
You hailed Belarusian textiles. You are known as a politician with very good taste, who is always very well dressed. Do you really wear Belarusian clothes sometimes?

Valentina Matviyenko:
Yes, I do wear Belarusian clothes. I have some summer dresses, they are very nice and I am happy to have them.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Everyone remembers how you tried on felt boots at a Belarusian fair in Sochi. Maybe the felt boots were not quite Belarusian. There are also Russian ones.

Valentina Matviyenko:
I also wore boots in winter and enjoyed them. It is warm and comfortable!

Yuri Koziyatko:
Will Russia present products in Belarus at this Forum of Regions?

Valentina Matviyenko:
The program will be very rich, and the cultural program too. Moreover, we timed the Days of Moscow in Belarus to this forum. And, of course, Moscow is seriously preparing for these days, there will be also exhibitions and presentations of products, concerts, and much more. And a variety of activities. A forum of our TV channels, a sports day for children of the Union State, and many others.  We really like it that the Belarusian side is very responsible when it comes to the preparation of the forum. We are together; we have a single organizing committee. We are also involved in it; we will hold a session of our inter-parliamentary cooperation.

Yuri Koziyatko:
What role does the Parliament now play in the development of cooperation between the two countries? Are there any temporary problems there? Can parliaments somehow fix the situation?

Valentina Matviyenko:
You know, the modern trend is the growth of the influence and the role of legislative, representative bodies. Public diplomacy, parliamentary diplomacy of people who are elected by the people is in demand. The way Russia and Belarus have been building the inter-parliamentary cooperation in recent years is exemplary. This cooperation is active, intensive; we exchange experience and legislative ideas between the chambers. As for the upper chambers of Belarus and Russia, we are chambers of regions, and we should first of all create not only legislative but also institutional conditions for support, expansion and development of interregional cooperation. It was basically the idea of the upper chambers that has become the basis for such forums. We are taking care of it because this is our common creation. And we are doing everything to ensure that they become more efficient, more ambitious, and that more and more regions, parliaments, governors and ordinary citizens become part of such active collaboration. I am sure that Belarusians, as always, will surprise everyone with their unique hospitality and will show all they are proud of.

Yuri Koziyatko:
The last time in Sochi, you liked Siabry. You mentioned several times. Siabry ensemble, Siabry band...

Valentina Matviyenko:
I fell in love with them long ago. And I consider them to be a national treasure of Belarus. This ensemble is known not only in Russia, but also, in my opinion, in many countries of the world. They are good performers, their Belarusian songs are sincere and they put in all their soul in every work.

Yuri Koziyatko:
But "siabry" (English: friends) is a kind of general term for Belarusians. So, maybe I would ask you to say "Thank you, siabry". Could you address Belarusians?

Valentina Matviyenko:
You know, I have never seen such respect, such love of our Russian citizens towards Belarusians. This is not a coincidence. We are united Orthodox people. We have common history, age-old history. We have a lot in common in our culture and traditions. And most importantly, I love Belarusian people: they are unique, amazing, good, simple, hard-working, forgiving and patient. I think this is the most important wealth of Belarus.

Yuri Koziyatko:
All the time I am looking at your brooch with the samovar. And I wanted to finish the interview with the following: we will be brewing tea and waiting for you.

Valentina Matviyenko:
Yes, and we'll bring the samovar.

Yuri Koziyatko:
See you, thank you.

Valentina Matviyenko:
Thank you.

Valentina Matvienko about Forum of Regions, love for Belarusian meat products and textiles