Interview with non-state mass media outlets

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Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an interview to the representatives of non-state mass media outlets on 4 August.

Aleksandr Lukashenko promised to meet with them at the press conference in January.

The meeting of the head of state with the representatives of non-state mass media outlets lasted for more than four hours. The meeting focused on a wide range of issues, including the social and economic situation in the country, the presidential election campaign, the situation in Ukraine, the relations with Russia, a number of personal questions.

Speaking about the presidential election in October, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the Belarusian election will be transparent and honest.

The Belarusian President said that at all kinds of sessions to discuss the organization of the election he always demands not to create any obstacles for the initiative groups of other would-be presidential candidates. “I always say: let them collect signatures wherever they want. The main thing is to avoid tension. However, there are strict rules. But still I am against arresting people even if they break some rules. I do not think that you can blame me or the government for creating unequal conditions,” the President noted.

The head of state also emphasized that he does not want potential rivals to fall by the wayside. “Do you really think that I am in favor of having fewer presidential candidates? The situation is quite the opposite. Therefore, I am not trying to freeze this process in any way. They can collect signatures and show their worth,” the President said.

At the same time, Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that certain candidates are even not interested in the real pre-election competition. The best thing for those who do not want the election competition is to withdraw from this competition, the head of state said. “Some people do amaze me. They let themselves in the race, and now are looking for an excuse to withdraw from it. Such examples are used later to blame Lukashenko and the government for creating the obstacles. We do not do such things,” the Belarusian leader said.

“The election legislation is normal. It is as good as in other countries. You will have an opportunity to follow the process of counting votes, visit polling stations and get all the information about the election. I can guarantee it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

Speaking about the economic situation in the country, the President remarked that there are no plans to provide artificial supports for the national currency in Belarus.

The President stressed that the need to devalue the national currency by 30% had been prompted primarily by external factors. Similar processes had happened in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine before that. “These are our main markets that we sell products to. We couldn’t keep up [the exchange rate of the national currency] due to even these reasons. And we don’t keep it up now. You know that. We absolutely don’t. No interventions by the National Bank. The price for our national currency evolves on its own. And it will always be like that. You can believe it because we don’t have money and gold and forex reserves to spare to keep up the strong currency,” said the President.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that at the same time the government is closely monitoring prices. “Since we know we cannot raise salaries by a lot in order to make them high in U.S. dollar terms, we have started suppressing prices. We have even decided not to go with the annual five-percent increase in prices for utilities. We have actually frozen prices for many commodities, prices for which are regulated by the state,” said the Belarusian leader.

Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced that wages in U.S. dollar terms in Belarus will return to the pre-crisis level in some one or two years.

“I really want the wages in our country to be higher, especially during this period. But the situation, mostly due to some objective reasons, is that we cannot keep wages at a high level. Moreover, we made them depend heavily on labor productivity. The absence of production and poor sales are the reasons for such wages. We will not print money. This is why we have this situation,” the President explained.

“You say I promised certain level of wages…Yes, I promised $500. And we considerably exceeded that amount. Now the wages are a bit lower. But I am sure that in some one or two years we will surpass this threshold and return to the level we had. I can promise you this, even if the situation on our traditional markets remains the same or becomes worse,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

In his words, today Belarus is working hard to develop trade cooperation with several dozens of countries of the so-called remote arc. “We will get out of the present-day situation. I am sure that with our agreements with China, Pakistan, India, and other states that need our products we will cope,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

Nobody has the right to tell people what language they should speak in Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The President stated: “Nobody in our country has the right to tell people what language they should speak. Suggestions can be voiced. But orders are not acceptable. I am never going to do it.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed it was his principled view. “Language is more than money, clothes, food and so on. Our people have not understood it yet. But if they were plainly ordered to speak a certain language, they would understand that language is the most precious thing. I am never going to put pressure on this sore spot. Every person has the choice of what language they should speak,” the Belarusian leader was convinced.

According to the President, a private opinion poll has been conducted in Belarus. It demonstrated that over 60% of the population consider Belarusian as their native tongue. “The percentage was much lower in the past. If we tried to pressure this issue, force people, or even make mild suggestions from the start, the effect would be at least contrary. At most the situation would resemble Ukraine’s. Language was what set everything in motion over there,” noted Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Speaking about the situation in Ukraine, the President said that Russia and the United States should sit down to the negotiating table and end the conflict in Ukraine.

“This is the main thing, everything else is secondary,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

He noted that the situation changed dramatically since that time when he suggested a plan to solve the Ukrainian crisis. “Today the situation is completely different, and it has not become simpler,” he noted. It was not urgent back then. I saw a different solution to the situation. Maybe U.S. involvement was not needed at that point. Things could be settled with less fighting and less bloodshed, Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

In his words, today everyone agrees that the United States should get involved in settling the situation. “I told the congressmen yesterday that if the United States is interested in peace in Ukraine and is ready to take certain steps in this direction, they will act as a peacekeeper and sort out the situation with Russia,” the Belarusian leader believes.

He believes that Europe will have no objections if the situation moves towards peace.

“This is my point of view. Probably not everyone in Russia accepts it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

The President also said that he is absolutely against the presence of any troops in Ukraine, be it Russian or American, be it mercenaries from Poland, Sweden or other countries. I do know that they are there. I know this not from Russian media,” said the Belarusian leader.

“I am well informed about the situation in Donbass, Crimea and Ukraine in general,” the head of state added.   

Aleksandr Lukashenko said that there will be no intervention in Ukraine from the territory of Belarus.

“This will never happen,” the head of state said. “No one will attack Ukraine from our territory unless the situation is in conflict with our interests and unless Ukraine attacks Belarus. I think this will never happen,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

He added that there are many violations on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border; therefore, the Belarusian side enhances the border protection. In his words, these border violations range from illegal trade to trespassing.

Speaking about the Russian military presence in Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that there are two military bases which work for peaceful purposes in the country. According to him, these are small bases. Among their personnel are also Belarusian military men.

Russia is not considering the possibility of depriving Belarus of its independence, Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

"We live in our own state, and today we can really talk about the independence,” the President said. “You often write about Russia, Putin, connections with the Ukrainian events. I honestly do not view the future from this perspective.”

"Although, I once said frankly: ‘We always keep our powder dry.’ It does not matter who will infringe on our sovereignty and independence. But I emphasize it again: the only scenario of war with Russia is if we start war. Russia will never ever fight with Belarus,” the Belarusian leader underlined.

"First, what is the reason? None. Second, it is counterproductive, and fraught with a disaster for Russia itself. Third, you do not believe this scenario yourselves," said the head of state. “Russia is not considering depriving us of sovereignty and independence in terms of any criteria, parameters, areas. Moreover, given the policy that we are pursuing. Belarus is the only honest, respectable and reliable ally of the Russian Federation,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The head of state also expressed his opinion on the “Russian world” concept. “This phrase has almost vanished from mass media, including Russian ones. I believe they heeded my critical remark and removed it from the agenda. It sounded strange, didn’t it? People did not understand it. Actually here, in Belarus, we did not have any problems with it. We call ourselves Russian people. But how did it go with people in Kazakhstan, other countries? This nonsense concept was planted among Russian ideologists after the elections, and they took it up. It got the attention of our people. It was not just my reaction to the situation,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“I do not understand this ‘Russian world’ idea. Our people do not understand it either. Can we speak about the Belarusian or Ukrainian worlds then? What is it? Some confrontation of the worlds? This is a far-fetched, silly idea. I do not think it found any support among Belarusians, but it did alert many,” said the Belarusian leader.

At the same time the President urged not to assign the Russian President the positions he has never supported. “Yes, we should live in our own ‘apartments’. Russia is our brother. I often call Russia our elder brother. But we want the elder brother to behave as he is supposed to. If the younger brother needs help, he is supposed to lend a helping hand. We live in a common home, but each in its own apartment,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.