Alexander Lukashenko and editors discussed integration in the context of modern international trends when integration becomes one of the main tendencies in politics and economy. And it seems that the CIS, the Customs Union, the Single Economic Space and soon the Eurasian Economic Union will become new centers of power which should be respected in the international arena.
“Let me tell you right away that I do not claim the possession of absolute truth. A prominent Russian classicist once noted: big things are seen from a distance. It is quite possible that a lot of time has yet to pass for people, politicians, and historians to be able to give precise and fair opinions about the Commonwealth,” Alexander Lukashenko remarked.
The head of state believes that after the USSR collapse there was no alternative to creating a new association. “The Soviet Union was a great state, a colossal geopolitical force that directly influenced destinies of the world. Such a state could not disappear without a trace: the influence of economic, cultural, and spiritual ties that evolved in the USSR was too strong for that. Therefore, the transition to a new association – the Commonwealth of Independent States — was absolutely natural and determined by history,” the President noted.
Alexander Lukashenko said he was convinced that destroying robust and efficient ties had been a bad idea. It was necessary to promote integration in the post-Soviet space but on a new political and economic foundation as a community of equal sovereign nations.
According to the Belarusian head of state, one should not keep looking behind one’s back at the European Union all the time as far as integration processes are concerned. “We should learn to treasure more the things that we have had for a long time. In many aspects Europe is still on its way to unity. It has a lot to overcome yet to achieve that goal. Our countries have colossal historical experience of living together,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Unlike the European Union, which nations had never lived in a single association, the CIS states have this experience and it gives them an advantage. “Since the Soviet times we have been united by a common economic blood system — the common power grid and the pipeline network, motorways and railroads, communications although we have not learned yet how to use all of that for the benefit of all the CIS states. Our manufacturing cooperation ties are still irreplaceable for many enterprises and provide millions of jobs,” the President remarked. As an example he mentioned that enterprises in Belarus provide jobs for some 7 million people in Russia.
There are no insurmountable psychological barriers between the CIS nations. “Our integration association is indeed a commonwealth: all the members are united by a common history, common educational standards, the rich Soviet culture and the great Russian language,” the President said.
“Sometimes people ask whether there was any sense in the existence of the Commonwealth of Independent States and if there is any sense now. Those, who ask, point out that many countries are now aligned with different centers of power. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are busy building the Eurasian Economic Union. Ukraine, Moldova, and partially Armenia try to expand relations with the European Union. China’s influence grows by the hour in Central Asia. Let me tell you something that may seem paradoxical. The fact that the CIS states pursue different policies does not weaken but strengthens the need for a uniting mechanism. A common platform for dialogue is a significant part of it,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The Belarusian President said that it is necessary to keep the Commonwealth of Independent States as a platform for making concrete decisions. “When we discuss the problem in private, we start criticizing the CIS and its ineffectiveness operation right up to losing any interest in the CIS at all. I always say do not hurry because it takes little effort to disband it. But later on it would be very difficult to get together,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced.
In his words, it is natural that some CIS states “try to find their happiness overseas”. But it does not mean that the Commonwealth of Independent States should be forgotten. “If we now disband, destroy the Commonwealth, which exists as a platform for meetings, negotiations, making decisions, what will happen when many of us have failed to find their luck overseas and try to resume talking about common topics?” Alexander Lukashenko wondered.
Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan established the Customs Union and are now approaching a new stage in integration – formation of the Eurasian Economic Union. “Considering the willingness of a number of other countries to join the integration project, the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union will become almost equal on the global geopolitical chessboard. Their interests will have to be balanced. This will show that the integration of integrations is an absolutely viable idea,” Alexander Lukashenko believes.
Alexander Lukashenko is convinced that the talks with the European Union will be more efficient: If the CIS member states conduct negotiations with united Europe together, this will bear more fruit than separate talks held by each CIS member state separately. These separate talks are often conducted on the humiliating terms for the CIS participating states. United we represent a power that will be reckoned with”.
The head of state was asked about hid opinion concerning Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union and the involvement of Ukraine in Eurasian integration.
There is nothing wrong in Ukraine’s holding talks with the European Union, Alexander Lukashenko said.
“We have no fear about Ukraine’s dialogue with the EU. Moreover, we have no grounds to forbid the country to sign any kinds of agreements. Our current situation with the EU is clear. They cannot stand us. But similar talks, even deeper about visa abolition, a free trade zone are conducted between Russia and the EU. Who can forbid such a huge country as Ukraine to conduct a dialogue and sign agreements?” the head of state emphasized.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, the most important thing is that the agreement should not close the door for Ukraine into the future Eurasian Economic Union, now the Customs Union. “If they sign this agreement and it is not economically sound for us and the Russian Federation we will not agree to this. It is our common stance and it was voiced, including by the Russian premier, at the relevant talks with Ukrainian counterparts,” the President of Belarus said.
However, the President said that there is no certainty about Armenia's accession to the Customs Union so far. “There are a lot of uncertainties about the process. Haste is worst of all. You know that Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia are planning to sign an association agreement with the EU. I have not analyzed the draft agreements of Armenia and Moldova. But together with Russia we have analyzed the draft documents of Ukraine. If these are similar documents, then it is understandable how deep and far our partners - Moldovans and Armenians are ready to go in this direction. I have already spoken on this topic and I am very pleased that after some time, at the meeting with the Ukrainians Dmitry Medvedev repeated what I said literally word for word. However, the Russians criticized me badly for that position before Medvedev voiced it. It was just embarrassing for some Russian media. We have no concerns over Ukraine’s dialogue with the EU,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The head of state stressed that when he heard that Armenia did not mind joining the Customs Union, he discussed this issue with the Russian leadership and asked the President of Armenia in Sochi about how they were going to sign an agreement on accession to the Customs Union. "I believe that it is not even the first step, but half a step, because there is no certainty in this matter," the President of Belarus said.
The President underlined that, in his opinion "today we are talking about a half-step of Armenia and the purpose is one - to have Armenia with us." The President stressed that this is his point of view and the issue is still open for discussion. Alexander Lukashenko also noted that on this issue the Belarusians and the Russians stick to one position that all should sit down and discuss how Armenia sees its future - the Customs Union, the SES on the one hand and the EU on the other. All of this will be considered in Minsk.
“I do not exclude that it may even be a document of Armenia’s intent to join the Customs Union,” stressed the President. He noted that Armenia wil not be able to join the Customs Union tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Armenia can join the Customs Union only when it completes all procedures and adopts the regulatory instruments and agreements already in force, Alexander Lukashenko said.
“Armenia should go its way of accession. Just like with the WTO. You can join it after a certain period of time,” said the head of state.
According to the head of state, the troika appreciates the political decisions of Kyrgyzstan (for example, the decision to close down the NATO base at Manas), but also expects the decisions in economy, for example, the imposition of duties on certain products, by analogy with the Customs Union.
Alexander Lukashenko also hopes that bilateral relations between Belarus and Kyrgyzstan will be developing more intensively. In his words, the cooperation between the two countries was put on halt following the demands to extradite former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Today, according to the Belarusian head of state, the parties should “turn the page and start cooperation anew.”
Speaking about the Customs Union integration, Alexander Lukashenko said that he is not happy with the performance of the supranational bodies of the Customs Union, particularly, the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC).
According to the head of state, the EEC employs more than 1,000 people. However, so far they have suggested no breakthrough proposals or initiatives. Alexander Lukashenko believes that the EEC should employ forward-looking leaders, wishing to make a difference. “The commission should not turn into a cesspool. This also applies to us, to Russians and Kazakhs. The commission should employ forward-looking guys together with the experienced professionals willing to work,” the President said. According to him, this view is shared by the leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan.
The Belarusian President also expressed his opinion on the integration in the Customs Union. "The Troika can be reproached for the unwillingness to create supranational bodies, speed up integration. But you cannot reproach us because we have moved even further in the integration with Russia,” said Alexander Lukashenko. In his view, it is premature to talk about the creation of supranational bodies in the Customs Union, for example, the analogue of the Defense Ministry or Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The President of Belarus is convinced that the еroika member states should demonstrate an example of a successful integration association in order to attract other countries to the Customs Union. “People may have some excessive expectations regarding this association. We, the initiators, and, first of all, Russia, the main engine and the hub of integration, should do our best to meet these expectations. We have no right to make mistakes,” the head of state said.
The President was also asked about exemptions and restrictions in the Customs Union. Alexander Lukashenko believes that be everything will be settled on 1 January 2014. “Once we have come to terms, let us establish the truly common economy and remove these exemptions,” the Belarusian leader said. “For example, if Kazakhstan wants to pump oil to Belarus using common pipes, it should be given equal access to them. If Kazakhstan wants to supply its products to Belarus, Europe via railways of Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus – the same terms should be offered. Now we have plenty of exemptions, you are aware of it very well,” the President said.
“It is true that oil, gas, special treatment and exemptions are important for Russia. But why would Russia be afraid of Belarus? Do you think we will run over you or eat you? Our economy is equal to 5-7% of Russia’s economy,” the head of state said.
Recalling the conversation with the presidents of Kazakhstan and Russia, Alexander Lukashenko quoted Vladimir Putin: “Indeed, there are things Russia should work on; everything will be settled on 1 January”.
The Belarusian leader believes that “equal” means equal in everything. At the same time, mass media are actively spreading allegations that these exemptions will not be removed on 1 January 2014. “If it is really so, it will be strange,” Alexander Lukashenko said. In his words, this is a very serious matter: “Someone cedes something and loses something. However, even if it had a political impact on Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus, it would not be as painful as it is now, because there would be some certainty for people”. The President believes that the removal of restrictions in the Customs Union will not be very detrimental to Russia’s interests. He explained: “Anyways, together we, in particular Russians, would be able to receive more by means of larger amounts”.
Speaking about his recent meeting with the President of Kazakhstan, Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that “there were not and could not be any anti-Russia talks, agreements, absolutely no taboo topics”.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, members of integration unions can share part of their sovereignty only if they benefit from it. When asked how long it might take to reach the same integration level, as is in the European Union, the President answered: “If the pace remains the same, it will take a long time”.
Alexander Lukashenko reminded that a supranational body was established at the Single Economic Space – Eurasian Economic Commission that was granted certain authorities. “It means that we have shared our sovereignty. There is no doubt about it when it comes to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. We need to understand what part of our sovereignty and what for we should transfer to supranational bodies,” the Belarusian leader said.
“Yes, we are an independent and sovereign state. However, if we want something and see the price, we will go for it. We have been thinking about it for a long time, hesitating, just like Russia and Kazakhstan, but we saw tremendous economic and financial benefits in it,” the head of state said.
“The Belarusians will not cede their sovereignty just for the sake of idle “chatter” about the future Eurasian Economic Union. I am sure, Kazakhstan and Russia will not do that either,” the Belarusian leader said.
“Therefore, in this case sovereignty is not an icon we should pray on. Sovereignty is a very important thing, but we will handle it in the interests of our people and we will take action only when we feel that the delegation of part of our sovereignty will benefit our peoples,” the head of state said.
Belarus is ready to sell its stake in MTS, the President said.
"If you are ready to buy tomorrow, we are ready to sell,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
In response to the comment that the price of $1 billion is too high, the head of state said: "In economy and finance there is no such thing as cheap or expensive. This is the process when people sit down and negotiate.”
Alexander Lukashenko noted that selling and pricing can be done through public bidding. “You see the price of $500 million at a public auction, and you think to sell or not. I would not sell. I would wait for a better market. If today the price were not $1 billion, which was set when the market was high, but $900 million, I would sell it,” the head of state cited an example.
When answering one of the questions, Alexander Lukashenko referred to the proposals for the merger of MAZ and KaMAZ. According to him, such privatization should bring investments, increase in the output, new technologies and new markets. However, in the case of KaMAZ nothing of the aforementioned is guaranteed.
The President noted that the Russian partners initially suggested setting up a joint company and working together for several years without exchanging property to see the real benefits. “Recently I read a report in mass media that someone out there (this is commonplace in Russia to throw the information on behalf of authorities, a company or someone else) said that the Russian are not interested in the project without shares. So you are not interested. No big problem here I guess,” the head of state said.
The President stressed that when Belarus’ lucrative assets are privatized he puts his signature on the documents last. Before that, a decision on privatization is taken by the employees of a particular company, the local authorities, the ministry and the government.
“In selling the property created by the people, I should be more meticulous than selling my own. This is my position, and I will proceed from this,” said the Belarusian leader.
One of the questions pertained to balanced migration policy.
“If you seek one-stroke solution to the issue, you get into this trap, will be left alone with all the countries and people around you seeing you the wrong way. Migration issues should be tackled differently, not through any restrictions, visas and so on. Russia will address this issue differently. I am confident there are enough smart people in Russia to start addressing the issue from the bottom, creating favorable conditions and placing all the processes under control,” the President said.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, the issue has become even more relevant and pressing following the recent riots in Biryulyovo. The head of state believes this sphere is highly corruptive, luring criminals. “You need to address this issue. Create such an order to avoid any similar violations in the future,” the President added.
As for the anti-migrant mass protests in Biryulyovo, Alexander Lukashenko stressed that such things cannot be pardoned, but both locals and immigrants should be treated equally. “There should be well-considered, sound policy built from the bottom,” the Belarusian President is convinced.
Alexander Lukashenko was asked what is the difference between a social and socialist state. The Belarusian leader is convinced that any state should primarily treasure its own people. “A state for the people. It is written everywhere in Belarus, it is our motto,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. “The state should work for the sake of people. Hence a social state, not a socialist one”.
“Belarus builds a social state, not a socialist one,” he said. The lack of planning is what makes Belarus different from socialist states. There is no doubt that Belarus has not rejected planning as a whole. For instance, every state has to adopt a budget as its financial plan. For instance, Russia adopts budgets for three years. Belarus adopts budgets for one year as well as 12 major social and economic development indicators. “But it is not that kind of planning that the Soviet Union had,” stressed the President.
The head of state also mentioned competition among the major differences. “Competition is what I accept in market relations without second thoughts. If competition is fair, there will be no stagnation in the society and the economy,” Alexander Lukashenko believes.
In his opinion, the state should create conditions for people to show their best qualities and it will always benefit any state. Therefore, declaration-based procedures are available in Belarus for anyone, who wants to do business. Belarus is ahead of the CIS states in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking.
Apart from that, the existence of private property is what makes Belarus different from socialist countries. “Private property is necessary. But it has to be created transparently and honestly,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
Yet Belarus has preserved a lot of positive aspects that socialist states have, for instance, free education and healthcare.
The right to life is the most important of all human rights, the Belarusian head of state said. “I personally believe that the right to life is the foremost human right. It is the most valuable thing,” the President said. According to the head of state, it is not common in the post-Soviet space to speak loud about the values that unite the peoples of these countries. These values are spoken about more loudly in the West. “Somehow, we look humble compared to them when we speak about values, as if these values are appreciated there and not appreciated here,” Alexander Lukashenko noted.
At the same time, contrary to what they proclaim about human rights, Western European countries and the United States often violate the basic values. The head of state mentioned the bombardment of Iraq by Nato forces using far-fetched allegations that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. The Belarusian President said that in the run-up to the bombardment an envoy of the then President Bush came to Belarus asking Alexander Lukashenko to support the intervention to Iraq and confirm the existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq promising “everything under the sun”. After the refusal and the statement condemning plans to launch the Iraqi campaign, the envoy of Bush said that the flywheel of the war had already been put into motion and no one could stop it. The military operation of Nato and the USA in Iraq has resulted in deadly terrorist acts that now happen almost every day there. “And we worship their values,” the President said.
The representative of Azerbaijan asked the President about his oncoming visit to Baku.
Alexander Lukashenko said that he plans to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev during his forthcoming visit to Azerbaijan.
Alexander Lukashenko reminded the participants of the meeting that a good tradition has been established when many CIS leaders meet on an annual basis and consider the status of implementation of the agreements made at the highest level. In his words, these meetings prompt more intensive work and create new areas of cooperation.
Alexander Lukashenko asked to convey his congratulations to Ilham Aliyev on his victory in the presidential election. “I am expecting him in Minsk for the summit. We have some issues to talk over. It will be a so-called preliminary talk ahead of my visit to Azerbaijan,” the Belarusian head of state said.
The reinforcement of the Tajikistan border should be reflected in resolutions of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko remarked that whether the CIS summit will discuss the matter or not will be up to Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon to decide.
“If he raises the matter, we will support him,” said the Belarusian leader. “We are in favor of getting these problems reflected in CIS resolutions, too. I think it will not be simple. It is a serious matter,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarus President reminded that at a recent summit in Sochi the CSTO leaders agreed to work out a system of measures to support Tajikistan in reinforcing its border with Afghanistan. “It is a common problem. I don’t think about the distance between Tajikistan and Belarus and I don’t think it is not our problem. There is no way for Belarus to avoid the migration traffic from the south,” said the head of state.
“Terrorist threats will grow stronger whether we like it or not because of the situation over there,” added the President.
Reporters asked many questions about the situation in the potash industry.
Alexander Lukashenko was asked whether he talked with potential buyers of the controlling stake in Uralkali: Mikhail Prokhorov, Vladimir Kogan and Mikhail Gutseriyev.
“No, I did not. I do not know Mikhail Prokhorov and Vladimir Kogan, do not know what they do. I know Mikhail Gutseriyev but we have not discussed the issue in person,” the President said. The Belarusian leader said that he offered Mikhail Gutseriyev to buy the controlling stake in the company, the businessman promised to consider it. “I later heard he was participating,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko said he would be happy to see Mikhail Gutseriyev as the owner of the controlling stake in Uralkali.
“His company is building a mine here to produce up to 1.5 million tonnes of fertilizers. He could make part of the system as a private trader. It would be beneficial for us,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko also told the participants of the meeting that when he was discussing the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin he understood that “the issue was relevant for him as well”. “At the very least the state may buy the asset and I am sure we will be able to restore the prices within two or three years. There is nothing wrong with the state keeping the asset at this point. It can be sold at a better price later,” the President said.
Belarus will get the necessary amount of oil to keep oil refineries busy, the President said.
“They have said that they will reduce deliveries to Belarus due to technical reasons. I’ve told Putin that it would be an unwise step,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
“I am convinced that we will get as much oil as we can process,” stressed the President.
“The stability of deliveries is another factor. We would not like to get the volume of oil approved every quarter of the year the way we have done this year. It is not something serious people do. It is one of the rough spots that must not exist in the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space,” said the head of state.
“It is not even an economical matter, it is a demonstration. What relation is between Baumgertner and oil?! What does it have to do with interstate relations? Don’t bring this issue up to the interstate relations level,” added the President.
“If you want to investigate this case, go ahead and do it,” Alexander Lukashenko said addressing the Russian side. He reminded that Belarus had forwarded 19 volumes of the potash case investigation data to Russia.
“Things are not simple here. They sold potash fertilizers via a Swiss company. They stated they charged, let us say $350, but in fact they sold the products at $400 and shared the margin. There were several incidences of it. It is not the case when you can get away with it,” the President said. He added that the case was reclassified into embezzlement.
“We would better bring it to an end, come to grips with it and punish those found guilty,” the Belarusian leader said.
“I am not bloodthirsty. I am not keen on imprisoning them. Let him compensate for the damage that has been proved so far. If he does, we will try to transfer Baumgertner who is loved so much by you and Russian people,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The President was convinced that the crisis in the potash industry had been arranged artificially in order to earn money by exploiting falling and rising prices for shares.
The Belarusian leader remarked: “I absolutely don’t care what Uralkali does as long as they stick to a normal policy on the potash fertilizers market. They harm not only us. The only thing I am worried about is for how long they will offer merchandise at dumping prices, destroying their own production of potash fertilizers in Russia by doing so”.
“The dumping trend has begun in all segments of the potash market. If we agree to sell potash fertilizers at $400 today, virtually next day Uralkali representatives offer prices as low as $320-350. It has been registered in lots of places,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The head of state underlined that the Belarusian company can survive the undercutting policy and the leverage necessary for it is available. “Why does Uralkali have to operate at a loss? In order to grab the markets? The attempt will fail!” stated Alexander Lukashenko. “We certainly can make a private arrangement with all the companies that operate on the market and Uralkali will not be able to tackle the entire market. It is classics: everyone should work to secure as high prices as possible and hence larger profits”.
The head of state remarked that the resumption of partnership and sales via one trader will be profitable for both sides and will be able to greatly increase prices for potash fertilizers. “Therefore, we are ready to return right now but only on the basis of the principled agreements that had been reached. We want things done transparently and honestly. We don’t want any palm-greasing schemes,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
“We don’t like companions like that. Therefore we are ready to work together if the Russian side wants that,” stated Alexander Lukashenko. “Let’s make an agreement, let’s work together. I and our potash industry would like to have people, who are interested in manufacturing and selling potash fertilizers transparently, as partners on your side”.