Minsk Dialogue Forum "European Security: Stepping Back from the Brink"

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Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko took part in the Minsk Dialogue Forum "European Security: Stepping Back from the Brink". In his speech the Belarusian head of state addressed global challenges in the region of Eastern Europe and in the world in general, put forward proposals regarding the gradual relieving of tension and resolution of conflicts:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I am pleased to welcome you on behalf of the Belarusian people in Minsk Hero City. More than 700 specialists arrived in Minsk, to the center of Europe, to discuss problems in our common home. It means a lot. We appreciate that. It’s always a pleasure for Belarusian people to welcome guests. Therefore, you can come whenever you want. Please remember that it’s always a pleasure to have you here.

To begin with, I want to say that last year Minsk hosted a security forum of this scale for the first time. it is worth saying that the forum did not get lost among other events. On the contrary, it was praised a lot and attracted public attention.

And now we continue this tradition. I am happy that you found an opportunity to take part in the discussion of topical issues on the international agenda and, unfortunately, the number of these challenges is increasing.

The search of reasonable and timely responses to these challenges is one of the main objectives for the expert community and for us, politicians, right now. Belarus has recently hosted many international forums on information security, human trafficking, terrorism.

It means that the interest of the western and eastern public in Minsk as a venue for dialogue is increasing. If our Europe needs it, we are prepared to act at any level, in any corner of our Belarus.

“Stepping Back from the Brink” – these words in the title of our conference reflect the nature of the major problem that the global community is facing in the best way possible.

Unprecedented tension in international relations, the undermining of the foundations of international security and the growing number of regional conflicts affect most continents.

We have already started beating the alarm, calling for an end to the confrontation. Recently, we have been talking a lot about the need for dialogue, confidence-building measures and the search for compromises. Unfortunately, the world is not getting better.

Moreover, we are witnessing a new round of strategic rivalry between the so-called great powers, the poles of power. Trade wars and sanctions confrontation are on the rise. The struggle for energy and raw materials is getting tougher.

Numerous armed and frozen conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe are not being resolved. Increasingly sophisticated methods of struggle are used. For example, drone attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia are a new, previously unseen precedent. Thus, the world has seen a new weapon, simple, cheap, and accessible to almost every terrorist, but which can cause irreparable damage not only to one state but to the planet as a whole.

Obviously, the list of contemporary challenges to humanity is dominated by security threats. At the same time, multilateral platforms, including the United Nations and the OSCE, are becoming a place for presenting arguments and not solutions to the problems.

The system of military and political checks and balances is falling apart in front of our eyes, while international organizations are unable to stop the process. Maybe, they don’t want to stop it. Maybe, the dominating forces in these organizations are interested in it.

We cannot but care that the degree of mistrust and confrontation between the East and the West has reached its limit. Security and disarmament experts on both sides are already painting a picture which is terrible in its credibility.

In just a few minutes, Russia and NATO, for example, can go from an unintended local conflict to nuclear war.

After the recent withdrawal of the key parties from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the process of destroying the arms control architecture is heading into the homestretch. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is the final frontier.

If the parties do not agree on its extension, in just two years (as far as I know by 2021) the world will find itself in a situation where relations in the field of nuclear weapons will not be regulated at all.

Mankind is moving towards a line beyond which there is indeed an abyss.

At the same time, we must admit that the big powers have reasons to treat each other with distrust. Unfriendly or even aggressive actions in the past perpetuate mutual suspicions and fears for years to come.

We need to return to the concept of European security based on cooperation, to the values of Helsinki and its final act, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. We all urgently need a strong success story that will convince even the fierce skeptics and ‘hawks’ that despite deep contradictions and misunderstanding, security interests in Europe are absolutely compatible.

Belarus has been in a unique situation over the past two decades.

On the one hand, Belarus is a military and political ally of our Russia, a member of the CSTO. No other country has such a level of relations with Moscow as Belarus.

At the same time, our country has concluded international agreements on security and confidence-building measures with all neighbors, including NATO member states. We have more than 120 international agreements with neighboring Ukraine.

We are prepared to fill these agreements with a new meaning and to improve them. The signals that we receive from our partners demonstrate that they are prepared for such interaction.

This is a unique resource in the current situation. And all of us must use it. We, Europeans, must prove to ourselves and the whole world that the architecture of European security can be restored, that there can be a different model of relations between Russia and NATO, between China and the United States, and a different projection of it on Europe, different from the one that we have seen over the past five years.

Belarus is doing its best to write a success story in regional security, the country will continue doing the same in the future regardless of any expectations.

As we can hear and see, certain people have doubts and regrets about what Belarus can or cannot do. Some of them just grin and say that it’s not up to us to solve certain issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not going to solve anything for anybody but for our own selves. We just suggest that we could gather together in this calm (for now) place and discuss our problems, other things.

Belarus is trying to do its best and will be doing it in the future. The country has everything for it. Belarus’ location, centuries-old spiritual and cultural traditions of Belarusians, their peace-loving nature and creative labor shape our position.

Our history is also a cause: we have seen so many wars. And we did not initiate those wars, we often fought not only for ourselves.

Belarus has been a donor of stability, a supplier of European and international security since it became independent and sovereign more than a quarter of a century ago.

The success story of Belarus as a reliable partner, who enjoys the trust of both the East and the West, could be the answer to the question whether Eastern Europe can serve as a cross-border belt of stability and constructive interaction.

As the first step in the accomplishment of this ambitious mission, we announced that despite of the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Belarus, which has been a full-fledged participant, will continue implementing it provided that there are no corresponding external threats to our country.

I was surprised to read about NATO’s plans to hold the army exercise in the spring of 2020 right near Belarus’ border. In terms of numbers (we know what they state today but are not sure what will happen in fact; the numbers will be probably two or even three times higher) no such exercises have been held near our borders. You know what rhetorical question we can ask in this regard. I don't know who will benefit from it.

With the INF Treaty over, the United States and Russia are growing increasingly concerned over security in the Eastern European region. This is evidenced by our recent contacts with American representatives and the message from Russian President Vladimir Putin to a wide range of countries about a moratorium on missile deployment in Europe and other regions of the world.

Maybe we should get together and discuss this, perhaps, the most pressing problem today. Should you wish, we can gather in Minsk or elsewhere. Moreover, Belarus has already suggested adopting a multilateral political declaration of responsible countries on the non-deployment of medium- and shorter-range missiles in Europe.

We are ready to sponsor or even draw up the text of this document. Obviously, such a declaration would not be an adequate replacement of the treaty, but it could help to fill the legal vacuum in the regulation of this segment of weapons. We hope that such a document will receive the support of many states and will be a practical contribution to the implementation of our initiative to launch an international dialogue on security.

Joint efforts to preserve the achievements of the INF Treaty in Europe can be an important step on the way.

People in Belarus know the situation around these missiles mainly from Russian-language sources, which explain Russia's position. We know and, in fact, we are convinced that Russia is, probably, right.

But I have recently heard a different point of view while talking to a high-ranking American politician. I asked him why they were doing that, there was no obvious need to kill the INF treaty, as Russia is ready to make all sorts of concessions. I set out the position, as we hear it from Russia, and his response (actually a rebuke) struck me. He said, “No, it is impossible to talk to Russia on this topic, they don't hear our initiatives at all.”

I thought, ‘Where's the truth?’. Probably it would make sense to get together and discuss things, hear different points of view and at least understand who is right here. It's very important to understand the problem.

Today, the new success story of European security should be written literally bit by bit. Small and medium-sized states such as Belarus can make a real contribution to the renaissance of the Helsinki spirit in Europe.

I am convinced that the implementation of this approach is beneficial to all the key world players - Russia, the European Union, the United States, and China.

It is an abnormal situation when leaders of countries of the European region have not gathered for a long time to discuss the current situation and problems, to talk face-to-face and give a signal to the planet. If not a signal, then at least we could dispel all sorts of myths. Why do we need the OSCE then? Why did we create this organization? To send missions to elections? This is the organization for security and cooperation in Europe.

The resumption of the Helsinki process will reduce the level of existing risks and geopolitical problems in Eastern Europe, free up significant resources that can be directed for peaceful, creative goals. It will also help to halt further escalation of conflicts and gradually improve the atmosphere in relations between the West and the East.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In this context, I cannot leave the situation in eastern Ukraine without attention (I will explain why I am focusing on it). First of all, because this is our common European problem.

The resolution of the conflict in Donbass is a key to security in Europe. People are still dying in brotherly Ukraine. The region cannot find a way out from social, economic and humanitarian chaos.

We, Europeans and non-Europeans, have gathered together to discuss certain issues in Europe. This is a litmus test. If we can do something, let’s sort things out in our home and resolve the issue. The conflict in Ukraine is not just a challenge for us, it demands resolution. If we resolve it, it will mean that we are capable of something. If not, we will come together in Minsk, Moscow, Paris, Berlin or anywhere else and talk… to little effect though.

A few days ago I visited Zhitomir where the 2nd Forum of Regions of Belarus and Ukraine took place. That was an economic forum, but we also discussed some political issues.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and I had a substantial conversation about various things. I realized that the president of Ukraine is a true and strong person, a patriot of his native country. He is a normal and responsible politician who wants to solve the European problem which he inherited. He is prepared for difficult solutions for the sake of peace. And we support him.

Belarus welcomes progress in the resolution of the conflict, particularly, regarding the exchange of prisoners; certain decisions were made at the meeting of the trilateral contact group in Minsk.

If someone thinks that after the decision had been made in Minsk (where certain decisions of the Normandy Four had been specified once again) the ice broke up, they are wrong. It did not break up and will not break up unless we give a push. At least we can dot the i’s in mass media and in politicians’ minds. The so-called Steinmeier formula.

Because we left Zelensky one on one with this heavy burden, with these problems, not his problems. Do you see what is going on in Kiev? Certain forces are using this process to pressurize the new government and the new president. And Europe remains silent (you know who I am speaking about), from East and West. They are just throwing stones at this young man in pursuit of their own interests.

Wake up at last. The war is not only in Ukraine, it is here, in our home. And we must solve the problem. If the Normandy Four is capable of something, they should have gathered together to make decisions long ago.

To find a resolution, if you like. But I doubt it. I was engaged in the process and I know how it is solved: everybody tries to get political points. But how? At the expense of old people and children’s lives? Only old people and children stayed there. All people who could flee from that region have already done it.

We must solve this problem! Only then these dialogues will mean something. And it will give an opportunity to hold top-level meetings in the Normandy format after a long break. We hope that such efforts will result in solid guarantees that a smooth mechanism of control over the fulfillment of existing agreements will be launched. At the same time, I think that the conflict in Ukraine cannot be resolved without the participation of the USA.

They say that Belarus is trying to put the cart before the horse, that Belarusians cannot do anything but are trying to interfere. My dear, I am saying this once again: this is not only the Ukrainian conflict, this is our conflict.

Belarus felt the consequences of the crisis in Ukraine directly. We have already seen what the conflict in Donbass brings – 160,000 refugees who fled to our territory,” the head of state noted. Just to compare, European countries cannot “share” 2,000-3,000 refugees per year from the Middle East. Belarus has immediately given these people an equal status with its citizens. We welcomed them like our friends. We opened our border despite a big inflow of weapons from the conflict-torn region. Of course, we are concerned about it.

A conflict is going on in our common home. And we cannot stand aside. This is also our Ukraine. Belarus, Russia, Ukraine are united. I don’t want to say ‘one nation’ not to disturb anybody. But we are one nation, in fact. It seems that Europe helps. But they should help in a way to make a difference.

It is essential to stop the war and restore Donbass, not only to restore Donbass. There are big problems in Ukraine. That war and the whole situation had a negative on Ukraine’s economy. The country needs help. If we are capable of something, let’s address the problem. Let’s take action. Make your politicians address this problem.

As far as Belarus is concerned, we are not interested in the role of mediators or peacemakers. Do not call it this way. We have never put the question this way. However, the country is prepared to play its role, if Ukraine and Russia want it and come to an agreement. We are ready to play the role that they will determine for us like close and friendly people.

If two brothers are fighting, the third brother cannot stand aside. This is it. This is our position. And do not say that this is not the conflict of Russia and Ukraine. People in the know have gathered together at this forum, none of them needs such statements.

Yes, we should not ignore the leaders of the unacknowledged Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People's Republic. They exist, we cannot ignore them. This is the matter of agreements. But the thing is that the main sides should take part in the resolution of this conflict and make a decision. With the involvement of the DPR and LPR we will see progress: 400km of the border, holding the elections there, the law enforcement structure...

When Volodymyr Zelensky and I were discussing this issue, I told him that it is essential to establish contacts, to move, because war is in Ukraine. He said he also saw the situation that way. The war is on Ukrainian soil. Therefore, it is necessary to solve the problem.

All wounds will heal sooner or later. World War II with Germany, for example. More than 30 million people died, millions of people were maimed for life. And what do we have in 70 years? We are not enemies any more. Life and history heal any wounds, even severe ones. Therefore, we should move in this direction.

No one will reproach the president of Ukraine for the lack of effort. However, a lot depends on us [European countries]. And we must share this burden, we must take a big part of it, to resolve the problem.

Dear participants of the conference,

There is no immediate, universal recipe for normalizing the situation in the world and in Europe. But there is a universal instrument, and its value cannot be overestimated. Calm, substantial and peaceful dialogue is the only way to step away from the brink of a global conflict without winners. The sides should come to an agreement and act.

There is a growing need for an international summit as part of the new Helsinki process. We need to hold it in the coming years under the auspices of the OSCE and perhaps the United Nations.

We need to adopt a strategic document to strengthen international security in the Euro-Atlantic region and on a wider scale. Today, it is impossible to solve these issues without such a power as the People's Republic of China. It is also important to take into account the opinions of other countries whose influence is growing today.

We are ready to help advance the Helsinki 2 idea, the dialogue between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, the CSTO and NATO, the alignment with China’s Belt and Road initiative, with the SCO, ASEAN, the development of the Digital Neighborliness Belt (there is a lot of talk about it today). We will support all constructive ideas aimed at overcoming dividing lines and preserving peace.

Dear friends,

Crucial topics are discussed at the international conference in Minsk. I hope that discussions will be constructive and analytical.

I have already heard opinions about our conference. A conversation is productive when the parties are engaged a dialogue with each other, not against one another.

Analysts and experts are not limited in their judgment and, unlike politicians, can say things they think necessary, identify any ideas, up to the most non-standard ones, propose solutions which are now needed by the international community.

I hope that thoughts and conclusions voiced here today will be in demand by those who make important political decisions.

Once again, dear friends, I would like to welcome you in the Belarusian capital and wish you every success. Thank you.