Interview with Interstate Television and Radio Company Mir
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an interview to the Interstate Television and Radio Company Mir on 6 April.
An open conversation focused on the integration on the post-Soviet space. The President shared his opinion about the further development of integration associations.
The head of state said that various integration associations exist on the post-Soviet space today. In some of them the countries have closer relations, in others they have less close cooperation. The President described these processes as multi-level integration. “The European Union now starts using this term. You see that a more progressive association, a group of big states is formed there to support others. And they also use the term ‘multilevel integration’,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked. “Our situation is the same. Those who wanted to stay in the CIS stayed in it. Those who wanted to leave it, like Georgia, left it. In fact, Ukraine has, in fact, put its participation in the CIS on hold, although not permanently, and visits the summits from time to time. But we have agreed that we cannot lose this platform.”
“To spark interest and enhance the CIS, we have decided to encourage member states to step up their efforts in the organization. We have signed a free trade zone agreement, enhanced our cooperation. Now we should, let us say, sign an agreement on the free movement of services. To a certain extent we have already done it in the EurAsEC and the UnionState. The experience of interaction at various levels was useful. The CIS member states should be also interested in their participation,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that every country wants to benefit from the participation in integration associations. However, the states should proceed with care. “You should not try to benefit at the expense of your neighbor. You will benefit from something, they will benefit from something else, there will be mutual concessions. But benefits are essential. It may seem mercantile, but if it is not beneficial, no one will need such a union and any steps in this direction,” he said. “Russia is looking for some benefits, Belarusians and Kazakhs are doing the same, and so on and so forth. But we have found beneficial issues. The economy is the main thing. The economy is a very strong connection.”
During the interview the head of state spoke about the current state and prospects of the Belarusian-Russian relations. In particular, he spoke about the trade and economic cooperation development and the joint strategic army exercise West 2017. The recent meeting f the two presidents in St. Petersburg was discussed too.
Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the sides have done their preparations for the talks. “You know that there have been many contradictions, certain problems in the relations of Belarus and Russia. These were the matters of concern for me and for President Putin. All that was unpleasant, especially between our states,” he said.
The meeting was overshadowed by a tragic event in St. Petersburg. “We are going for the meeting, and the terrorist attack takes place exactly at the same time. And all the problems that emerged, perhaps, several months before our meeting (we were determined to discuss those issues and cut the Gordian knot) have receded into the background. We have realized the true values in this life. All oil, gas and other disputes do not matter when a terrorist attack happens just in front of you and when people whom we must protect are dying,” the President said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that after the tragic events in the St. Petersburg metro the issues of security and defence have come to the forefront at the negotiations although they were expected to be the main issues on the agenda even before the talks. “Other mundane things have receded into the background. We have spent less time on the regulation of those issues. Security matters were in the spotlight,” he said. “We leaned a lesson back then, and it should be a lesson for everyone.”
The second item on the agenda was the cooperation in economy. “That included oil and gas issues in the way they were presented in the media, matters related to the industrial policy, development of agriculture and collaboration of the two countries in this field, and so on. By the way, we have almost no issues in agriculture: we adopt clear programs every year, including with respect to food supplies, especially to the Russian Federation. For instance, today Russia’s shortage of food products is estimated at seven million tonnes. We supply four million tonnes of foodstuffs to this country. Another three million tonnes are needed to satisfy the market. It is necessary to tackle this shortage to prevent price increase,” the head of state said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that Belarusian enterprises almost do not compete with the Russian ones as the market of this country is not fully occupied. “We offer better quality at lower prices, but this is not a reason to discriminate us and prevent our access to the market. We should work in Russia, make products that are, for instance, nitrate-free. We should process these products at modern dairy plants and meat processing enterprises. Then the market will get good quality products. As for the prices... This is not the case when someone grabs from the wallets and pockets of the Russian people. Our products are not so high-end, they are designed for regular people. We do manufacture premium products, but those products that are exported to Russia are mostly for regular people. They like these products. We are open: come and inspect. We have nothing to hide. Our food processing standards are on par with the world-class ones,” the President assured.
In his words, the fact that the products of Belarusian enterprises are in demand in Europe that is very quality-conscious attests to their high quality. “And Russia started imposing restrictions. In this light, we discussed another issue: I showed him [Vladimir Putin] who benefits from such restrictions,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
As for the allegations about re-export of products by the Belarusian side, the Belarusian leader said Russia should look carefully into the matter. “Products of any country can be brought to Belarus. As it turned out, that was not done by Belarusians, but by Russian bandits. I laid it out for him. We agreed to adopt measures in the near future to prevent this. However, I noted that there should be no discrimination against us. If those members of the Russian government who have large latifundia, run an agricultural business and start discriminating Belarusians to reduce competition, they will not succeed in this. We will have to take adequate measures. We adopt food supply balance sheets every year that specify how much milk and meat we must deliver to the Russian Federation. We do not choose the amounts. Therefore, it is unreasonable to allege that we supply sanctioned products to Russia. We do not do such things,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
During the talks, the presidents also discussed industrial cooperation. They emphasized the need to strengthen the ties among enterprises. “Why should KamAZ enjoy better conditions than our MAZ? We have a common market, so let’s reach agreements and work. It is necessary to team up, and nobody is against this. However, this should be done in an honest and fair manner, without demanding ‘give us this enterprise and forget about it’. Why should we do this? We are not going to give anything to anyone. If someone wants to participate in privatization, the price is known. Pay money and come, we are not against this. The main thing is to protect our people from being thrown out into the street and make sure that the enterprise gets an upgrade and continues to develop.”
The parties agreed to discuss these issues in detail at the upcoming meeting of the Supreme State Council of the UnionState.
Apart from that, an agreement was reached to restore the supplies of oil to Belarus to the previous levels. “Today it is a fact that we pay a considerable amount of money for gas. We have reached an agreement on the issue, and Russia will compensate for the difference between the current price and the real price through the re-export of oil. The oil price is adequate. In this respect we have no issues. We are finalizing the upgrade of our oil refineries. Their condition was good even before the modernization. Once the upgrade is over, the output of light oil products will reach 95%, and the oil issue will solve itself. We will be able to buy oil in any market, process it domestically and get relevant revenues. Russia also understands this,” the head of state said.
The two leaders talked about other issues as well. “We have discussed some population-related matters that are of great importance to the operation of the UnionState. There are no critical issues in terms of movement, employment, pensions, social matters,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.
During the interview the Belarusian head of state said that many countries are discussing the forthcoming Belarusian-Russian army exercise Zapad 2017, which will take place in Belarus.
“Today I received a letter from a group of U.S. congressmen, including the famous [John] McCain, who searches for democracy in Belarus. The letter complains that we’ve apprehended someone here and so on and so forth,” he said. “These people raised the matter of the army exercise among other things. They say it represents some kind of danger to them. What about NATO’s increased activities near our borders?”
The head of state stressed that the Belarusian-Russian regional military force was formed as a counterbalance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect the interests of the two sides. “We are not going to attack anyone, we don’t need that. And we are not capable of waging a war on the entire world. Putin and I understand it perfectly. But we will stand our ground. This is why they have to understand us,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
These politicians, the President added, like to criticize Belarus for the violation of certain human rights. “I think they should take a look at what kind of democracy is practiced in Western countries. Brussels, London, Paris, and Germany saw bombs, poison, tear gas, water cannons, and police batons only recently,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Can it get any better? A stronghold of democracy indeed. Do you remember what was happening after Donald Trump’s election in the United States of America? This is why I told him it is necessary to take a long hard look at what kind of ‘democracy’ they practice. At least we’ve not tried to poison anyone with tear gas.”
The President also answered a number of topical questions, including on the maintenance of security in the region and the war on terrorism in the world.
The televised version of the interview will be shown by the Mir TV channel on 7 April.