ST. PETERSBURG, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin met Friday with visiting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in St. Petersburg to discuss bilateral relations, the Kremlin said on its website.
The two leaders focused their talks on Russia's 10-billion-U.S.- dollar investment in Belarus's first two nuclear power plants, which are due for completion by the end of the decade.
Putin said work on the two nuclear power plants is proceeding ahead of schedule, with the first plant expected to be ready by 2018 and the second by 2020.
Russia and Belarus signed the agreement to build the nuclear power plants in 2011.
Putin and Lukashenko also exchanged views over a range of other economic, environmental and humanitarian issues between the two countries.
"Trade between Russia and Belarus reached 45 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, up 10 percent on 2011, and is expected to reach the 50-billion-dollar mark this year," said Putin.
Putin reiterated Russia's interest in deepening ties with its Western neighbor while Lukashenko thanked the Russian leader for his ongoing support for Belarus's modernization efforts.
An agreement between the two countries to conduct joint research in Antarctica was also signed.
"This is a fundamentally new direction in our relations, with economic as well as environmental and scientific dimensions," Putin was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus convened here on Friday and approved a 4.8- billion-ruble (160-million-U.S.-dollar) budget for 2013.
Russia and Belarus, which signed the "Treaty on the Union Between Belarus and Russia" in 1997, enjoy close economic and political relations.