1st Forum of Regions of Ukraine and Belarus in Gomel

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There is a colossal demand in Belarus and Ukraine for stronger friendship and good-neighborliness, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the plenary session of the 1st Forum of Regions of Ukraine and Belarus in Gomel on 26 October.

“A representative list of regions from the two countries taking part in the forum shows that there is a colossal demand in Belarus and Ukraine for the further development of relations and strengthening of traditions of friendship and good-neighborliness. They are based on shared spiritual and moral values, similar mentality of our fraternal peoples,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

The president stressed that there are no unsolvable problems in relations between the two countries. Minsk and Kiev have always found mutually acceptable solutions.

“Together with my Ukrainian counterpart we discussed all the topical areas of cooperation that require our attention. There was not a single issue which we had not talked over. I think that following these talks necessary highlights will be made across all issues that are of interest to us. I would emphasize that the Belarusian-Ukrainian dialogue at the highest level is sincere and trust-based. We can discuss any, sometimes very complex topics in a constructive atmosphere,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that all the agreements reached with the Ukrainian side are executed. For that the countries have involved the entire set of instruments, including the work at the level of deputy prime ministers - the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation.

“I am convinced that the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations largely depend on the results of interaction at the interregional level. That is why today’s forum will become a convenient platform to discuss all relevant areas of cooperation,” the president added.

The head of state noted that Belarus has been developing interregional cooperation with many countries, including Russia and China. “Cooperation between states and nations will never die out if it rests on regions. We have started a great thing here. This is the foundation for our relations,” he said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that Ukraine is not only a good friend and a neighbor for Belarus but also one of its key political, trade and economic partners.

Belarus-Ukraine trade has been steadily expanding in recent years. In 2017, the bilateral trade was $4.5 billion, up 20% over 2016. This year, both the Belarusian export and import from Ukraine have been on the rise.

“I am confident that we can do much more. The potential of Belarus and Ukraine makes it possible to implement the most complex and large-scale projects in various sectors of the economy. We agreed with the president to continue working towards reaching $8 billion and later $10 billion in mutual trade,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The Belarusian president outlined agriculture, petrochemical and engineering industries, humanitarian and sci-tech sectors as the most promising areas of interregional cooperation for Belarus and Ukraine.

“Belarus is ready to share its best practices with Ukraine in upgrading its infrastructure, including the improvement of utility services, the renewal of the passenger and special-purpose transport fleet, and road construction, in all the areas where Ukraine needs help. The same I heard from my counterpart. We are ready to learn from you in the areas we are interested in,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

In his words, in Gomel Ukrainian partners can get familiar with the projects implemented by Belarusian specialists and cooperation prospects.

The president underlined that Belarus is ready, as before, for close cooperation with the Ukrainian mining and metallurgical industry. “It is an open secret that its fleet relies, in many ways, on reliable, time-tested BelAZ rock haulers. We need to continue strategic interaction in this industry,” the head of state noted.

Cooperation in transport logistics has a great potential, Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "More efficient use of our geographical advantages will contribute to the successful implementation of various projects within the multimodal transport corridor Baltic Sea-Black Sea,” he said.

The president emphasized the importance of engaging the railway component, river navigation and integrating the Ukrainian seaports into the logistics chains.

An impressive number of business entities are involved in trade and economic relations of the two countries. In Belarus, there are about 300 joint ventures with Ukrainian capital. In Ukraine, there are about 100 Belarus-funded enterprises.

“The total investment injected in the projects implemented by our country in Belarus and Ukraine exceeded $1.2 billion in 2017,” the head of state said. Last year, over 2,000 tractors, 90 combine harvesters and 500 elevators were manufactured at joint assembly plants in Ukraine, he added.

In turn, Belarus buys Ukraine’s metal, a wide range of components for the machine-building complex, agricultural raw materials and products for the animal husbandry and other sectors of agriculture and the food industry.

“Without the participation of regions, our cooperation projects would be deprived of practical meaning. We, however, can work not only for the markets of our states. Our economies are located in the heart of Europe, at the crossroads of major trade routes and are part of large-scale regional integration projects. We should focus on joint ventures to produce goods for third markets,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Ukrainian business, the president believes, will be interested in such promising platforms as BelarusHi-TechnologiesPark and the China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone. “Preferences and favorable investment climate in the context of these initiatives make it possible to implement large-scale projects in innovations,” the head of state said.

“Ukrainian farmers will sure be interested in Belarus’ grain deep processing capabilities to produce essential amino acids and high-tech fodder for livestock. This project, which provides for the construction of 14 plants, is being implemented in cooperation with our Chinese partners. It is on track to be complete by 2030 and foresees investments of more than $700 million,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The president stressed that such projects can be many, and called on Ukrainian businessmen and industrialists to carefully evaluate the potential of cooperation with Belarus and its regions.

Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Belarus is intent on a meaningful and constructive dialogue with its Ukrainian friends in any area. Our country aims for broad-format cooperation with Ukraine in all spheres in the spirit of trust and mutual support.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that not only economy unites the two countries and the two nations but also tight humanitarian ties. Bilateral cooperation in sport, science, and education develops vigorously.

“Both countries have all the necessary conditions for preserving the identity of national diasporas. Ukrainian Culture Days in Belarus, which were a success in Minsk and the regions this summer, were an unforgettable event,” said the head of state.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that the 2nd European Games will take place in Minsk in 2019. The head of state stressed that Belarus would be happy to see Ukrainian athletes participate in the games. Belarusians will root for them just as they will for Belarusian athletes. “Because sport and events of this magnitude represent a strong uniting factor,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced.

The head of state said he was confident that interregional cooperation between the two countries will get a second wind after the 1st Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine. “It will become an important impulse for coming up with new joint initiatives in the area of economy, culture, sport, tourism, education, and science,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

In his speech the head of state also touched upon an issue, which is painful for Ukraine and its neighbors, including Belarus. “It is very important and painful for me personally,” noted Aleksandr Lukashenko. He explained that his family had come from Ukraine, this is why the country is not foreign to him. “It is a matter of war and peace. I am talking about it because it has been very politicized recently. Belarus is not thousands of kilometers away from this conflict, from the war where innocents perish. The war is really close. It is on our doorstep, in our brothers’ home,” pointed out the head of state. “There is one goal: end the war and keep Ukraine united and indivisible. I know it from the president of Ukraine and, sincerely speaking, from many people involved in this conflict.”

“Let’s be honest, securing an agreement between Russia and Ukraine will not suffice. An agreement can be reached, but it will not be enough. Let’s be honest one more time: they’ve lost trust in each other. This is why in order to be absolutely clear, in order to get Belarus’ point across to our Ukrainian brothers and those, who can hear us, in order to avoid all kinds of speculations, I would like to say it plainly: we are ready to get involved in this conflict where things are difficult, where there is no trust where should be some. We are ready to do it for one and only goal: peace. In my opinion, this problem has to be resolved by our three Slavonic nations. It is our sorrow. Not Europeans, Americans, or someone else. We should be the ones to resolve this problem in order to prevent it from simmering on the backburner like some other hot spots in the ex-USSR do,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced.

“The Republic of Belarus is ready to work only within the framework of agreements secured by Ukraine and Russia, by the two presidents. Bear in mind: we don’t solicit the role of a peacekeeper or a mediator. I can’t stand it. When the West enforced sanctions against Belarus, we heard a lot of mediation proposals. Everyone rushed to be a mediator between Belarus and the West. I turned down those mediators because I tolerate no mediation. Belarus cannot and will not do any peacemaking if the two presidents don’t want it,” stressed the head of state.

Aleksandr Lukashenko once again pointed out that if Belarus has to be involved in resolving the conflict, it will act only bearing in mind agreements of the Ukrainian side and the Russian one. “Russians and Ukrainians are not foreigners for us. They are our people,” said the president. Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying that the future generations must not inherit the conflict in Ukraine. “It would be a crime of our generation before those, who will come after us,” he stressed.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Ukrainian side has received a warm welcome during the forum of regions in Gomel. It is impossible to fake this attitude. “It is my attitude, the attitude of municipal government agencies, and, best of all, the attitude of Belarusians to you. We are extremely worried for you,” he told the Ukrainian guests. “We would like this blessed land with its rich resources and extremely hardworking people to flourish. And it will.”

The head of state noted that wars always end sooner or later and history is the witness of that. “But why can’t we end these conflicts faster, as soon as possible?” he wondered. “I couldn’t but raise the matter because Belarus had been pushed into this problem from all sides. And I want you to know our attitude: if we enter Ukraine from the north – I would like some Ukrainian military to hear me – we will be driving harvesters, tractors, trolleybuses, and buses. We will never be driving tanks into Ukraine.”

“We don’t ask to be mediators or peacemakers. We just worry for you. If we can do something for you, we are ready to do it. I hate when some try to use Ukraine as a bargaining chip. Ukraine will always be powerful, prosperous and united, but one needs to know how to negotiate. Today it is necessary to end this fratricidal war and we are at your service,” concluded the Belarusian leader.