President of the Republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko answers questions of mass media representatives on 23 March 2014

    The Belarus Segodnya Newspaper: At the previous elections to the local councils of deputies you said that you wanted these local councils to work in closer collaboration with the population. What do you think about the current state of affairs? What would you like to wish to the new deputies?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: First of all, I want to thank all deputies who will resign after these elections. I was told that nearly half of them seek to be re-elected to the local councils. It is not bad, there should be some continuity.

    A lot has been done by councils of deputies, from maintaining order in their communities to adopting local budgets. This is a huge piece of work and this work is important. This is unsalaried work. It is a manifestation of respect and support. Trust of voters is a good reward for the councils of deputies.

    I am grateful to the councils of deputies for the peace and accord that we have maintained with their help. They are in the frontline, face to face with their voters. Members of local councils have to reconcile the interests of the power vertical and people. Executive authorities cannot do everything members of local councils ask for, while the latter express the interests of their voters. They are doing their best to resolve local issues though it is not always feasible. Therefore, they are often between a rock and a hard place. It is not easy to be close to people, try to do something and see that not everything is possible today. I know that it is very difficult to a member of the local council. Therefore, we should thank them for the work they have already done.

    I thank that at these elections the most progressive councils of deputies will be shaped in a democratic way. According to the Minsk mayor, there were queues in the capital city yesterday because people want to cast their votes before they went to the country. It means that our people are politically active and responsible. People want peace and stability. They believe that local councils of deputies will help preserve these peace and stability.

    To all the new deputies who will be elected at these election I wish to fulfil their promises and to be closer to people. Our people deserve it!

    The Belarus-1 TV Channel. These elected are the so called rehearsal of the main political campaigns, namely the presidential and parliamentary elections

    The ONT TV Channel: The situation in Ukraine is the biggest story in the world today. Belarus is a neighboring country; therefore, we are concerned about what is going on there. What do you think about the current authorities of Ukraine? What is your opinion about the overall situation in the neighboring state?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: I will tell you honestly: I am disgusted and repelled by everything that has happened and is happening in Ukraine. There are many reasons for that, including personal reasons. Ukraine is a brotherly country for me and for you. It is a part of our Slavonic community. Therefore, the things that are going on there are rather painful to me.

    When I say that I totally reject the things that have happened and are happening in Ukraine, I express my personal, civil position.

    The things that took place in Ukraine are called differently. Some call them a revolution, some say it was an armed takeover of power; others call it an unconstitutional coup. Do you think I like it? Do you like it? Of course, not. It is not okay when the legitimate government is deposed this way and a new government is installed.

    As for my attitude to the people who came to power in Ukraine, there are different people among them; some of them are professionals, some are simply loudmouths, just like everywhere; and this is particularly true if a government is formed in the course of rallies and coups.

    Therefore, my attitude to them varies.

    Some of the so-called politicians that are now in the government or close to it in Ukraine call themselves successors of Bandera, UNA-UNSO, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, i.e. organizations of Ukrainian nationalists. Several thousand militants from these organizations also acted on the territory of Belarus during the Great Patriotic War. You know what they did here. I will give you just one example – Khatyn. It was not discussed and studied during the times of the USSR, but later we found out that the abhorrent things that happened in Khatyn and other places were done by representatives of these insurgent organizations that had been set up in Ukraine. They burnt a lot of our people, including people living in Khatyn.

    If the people who came to power in Ukraine relate themselves to these subhumans, what kind of attitude are we supposed to have towards them?

    However, there are also good people, professionals, and businessmen in the new government of Ukraine. I like these people, but I do not like the others. No matter what my attitude towards them is, we need to build up relations with them, of course, if they stay in power, if they continue their political career – and this will be determined by the forthcoming presidential election and, I hope, the parliamentary elections in Ukraine. We will cooperate with those who will be supported by people.

    Why? There are objective reasons. Ukraine is a neighboring state and the two countries cooperate closely in various fields.

    We can relate to the overwhelming majority of the Ukrainian people; they are the same as we are.

    When I was 20 years old I served in the border troops on the territory of Western Ukraine. This was the first time I met the so-called westerners in Ukraine. I met more of them when I worked in the agricultural sector. I would never say that these people are different from us. These are very hardworking, honest and kind-hearted people. Politicians are to blame for the partition of Ukraine.

    The Ukrainian government made a lot of mistakes and thus, fell into disrepute. They did not think it over properly. Looting and fighting started in the streets, there is no order, and property is being redistributed. Dishonest oligarchs and some other people are taking advantage of it. Can I approve that? Of course, not!

    As for Crimea, I do not like it when the integrity and independence of a country are broken.

    However, who masterminded this situation? Many say that Russia could not wait to grab Crimea and annex it and so on. You are politicians, you should not have given the reason to let it happen. When Russia saw these persecutions of Russians or rather all Slavonic people, when Crimea faced this threat (Crimea once belonged to Russia, however, this is not the point) Russia had to interfere, as there are 1.5 million Russians there and about two million who could not accept the developments in Ukraine. No one can say that Russia took to the arms and people went there and grabbed Crimea. The current government gave the reason for it to happen.

    And the main thing. We are destined to live together; We will, no matter if we want it or not, build up relations with the government that will be chosen by the Ukrainian people. I have already said that we have never interrupted and will not interrupt our relations with Ukraine.

    The ONT TV Channel: What could have been done to prevent Ukraine from becoming a federation?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: I would not want that. A federation is like a piano, where one force will play on one side and others on the other, including external ones. This will destabilize the situation forever.

    Ukraine should remain an integral, indivisible, non-aligned state. It will be sensitive for Belarus and Russia, if, say, NATO troops land in Ukraine tomorrow. We cannot accept this. This is our biggest concern. Therefore, it is necessary to agree that no one has the right to go further in Ukraine. We must help Ukraine to deal with these challenges.
    The transformation of Ukraine into a federation is very dangerous because it means further war, further internal confrontation which will turn external (the Crimea is an example).

    This should never be allowed.

    What can be done for the unification of Ukraine? Ukraine needs help today. It is necessary to conduct the elections in the proper way. I do not believe that a normal presidential election can be organized in such a situation, with several power groups and units struggling. For your information, every big politician in Ukraine has a group of 150 up to 1,000 armed people who were armed long ago. A spark to this powder mixture will blow up the whole Ukraine, and everyone will suffer: us, Russians and the West. The Crimea issue would seem like the smallest of the problems. The situation would be much worse and scarier. Therefore it is necessary to stabilize the situation now.

    The issues of Ukraine in the CIS were raised in a meeting with major mass media outlets early this year. Then, speaking about Ukraine, I said that the worst thing that can happen, which was what happened, was that the Ukrainian theater of military-political action would turn into a struggle of two forces - the West and the East. This is what happened, in my opinion. This must be stopped. "Both the West and the East will be affected if the conflict escalates, and even worse, if it is frozen. This means it will explode sometime in the future.

    Therefore, we need to search for solutions now. We are ready to do everything to ensure that there is peace and stability in Ukraine so that people could decide how to live and with whom, with which politicians.

    Interfax: Does Belarus recognize Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation? Is it dangerous that the referendum in Ukraine will spark a wave of self-determinations of regions not only in Ukraine, but also on the entire post-Soviet space?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: As for the recognition and non-recognition, Crimea, just like Ossetia, Abkhazia and other regions, is not an independent state. Today Crimea is part of the Russian Federation. No matter whether you recognize it or not, the fact remains. Belarus has already declared its position on the matter. Some say that this position aims at avoiding confrontation with the two states. But Belarus is not going to confront anyone.

    Nobody demands that Belarus should recognize Crimea and support Russia or make a stand against it. I will tell you honestly: nobody demands it from me and from our government, from the Foreign Ministry. I think the situation will develop the same way de-facto. Whether Crimea will be recognized as a region of the Russian Federation de-jure does not really matter. Everybody recognizes Russia. We are not going to meddle in it. It is bad that the Russian Federation had to resort to these measures.

    If you ask me what choice I will make, I will tell you that considering our common historical background, our Union State project, and our agreements with the Russian Federation, we will be with Russia and there should not be any further speculations about it. Our domestic, foreign, military policy is not aimed against NATO or anyone else. We will pursue a balanced policy. However, if we had to choose, we will choose the Russian Federation. I told Russian President Vladimir Putin about it during the recent conversation. I told Vladimir Putin that there is no reason to worry; Belarus will always be with the Russian Federation.

    Why? Let us draw some parallels. Was the bombing of Iraq by Americans, NATO legal? We know it was not. What position did the allies of the USA and NATO take? Even Georgia, Ukraine (that are not part of NATO) sent their troops there. They strongly supported this illegal campaign. What happened in Egypt, Tunisia and then in Libya; what is happening in Syria? The western world sticks to the same position. They, first of all, Americans, understand that what they do there is illegal. But they act together; they are bound by agreements and arrangements.

    In this case, why should we act against Russia? We are with Russians.

    I will tell you honestly: the western world is a sham; the people over there are good for nothing. They made so much fuss about it. To be honest, at some point I got an impression that this might end up in a war. And what happened? 20 people were banned from entering Europe. These people have never travelled to Europe; some of them are not even allowed to go there because of the work they do. This is the essence of the West.

    And then, how many promises were made. They said they would never pressurize or bully Belarus, or impose economic sanctions. In fact, they did it. They imposed economic sanctions and political sanctions on 200 people in Belarus, including the Belarusian President. Afterwards, they promised to lift all the sanctions. When will these promises be delivered on? Why are they still pressurizing us? I draw attention to the issue that was raised by some journalists in relation to sanctions against Belarus and against Russia: It is scary. Russia is not Belarus. Therefore, they start wobbling and wagging in order to save face.

    They are not capable of anything and one should think twice before dealing with them. They can deceive you and they deceived me many times. And then, to save face, they started demanding to democratize, devaluate, hold elections in a proper way, and release political prisoners. I tell them - show me the article on which we charged these political prisoners. We explained to them on what charges those people were jailed. This is the West.

    This is one of the factors that I take into consideration while shaping and pursuing our foreign policy.

    Therefore, we will stay with our people, brotherly nations, Ukraine, Russia and other nations. We will not make any problems for our neighbors. But we will closely monitor the situation and respond to the developments near our borders.

    As for the wave of self-determinations: many hands have started itching, but as Viktor Chernomyrdin said they started itching in the wrong place.

    I would tell the West that Crimea is dangerous not because it became a part of Russia. Precedents are important. The West said that Russia was the reason for the failure of the Budapest memorandum on nuclear security assurances. I had to sign this shameful document in the presence of the UK Prime Minister, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, when our “great political figures” decided to remove all nuclear weapons without any preconditions, free of charge. Ukraine and Kazakhstan did the same. Back then the three states - Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom- assured us of economic security, political, territorial integrity and all other things.

    This is dangerous. Some states have withdrawn, and Ukraine stated that it is withdrawing from this agreement. The states that are on the verge of production of nuclear weapons are getting off the leash. The consequences can be even more terrible. A bad precedent is being created. It is bad that medium-sized, small states begin to think that they cannot protect themselves and maintain their territorial integrity. A wave of self-determinations may start and this is dangerous. Yet if you can hold a referendum and resolve a problem, then why not?” the President noted. "I think we can discuss this issue hypothetically today, and the time will show what will happen.

    RIA Novosti: Russia stated about its readiness to deploy additional 24 Russian aircraft in Belarus. How long are they going to stay in Belarus? Are you planning joint military exercises? How will Belarus protect its borders?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: In general Belarus and Russia regularly hold joint military exercises, and Belarusian military use the Russian shooting ranges for training.

    As for the aircraft, more than a year ago I asked the Russian side to dispatch ten aircraft to Belarus. It is not because we do not have them. Today, I think, we have 160 aircraft and helicopters. This is a lot for our army. We use, probably, 60. This is sufficient and even a lot for the armed forces we are training today.

    Belarus’ defense industries complex has designed two modern radar systems, which the Belarusian army is being equipped with.

    We need air defense weapons such as S-300 and others. When Russia said that it could not give us S-300 entirely for free, I said OK, we would buy them. And we do, no matter how difficult it is for us.

    Now ten Russian jets are deployed in Belarus: four since December and six when I demanded that they fulfill their obligations. They are deployed at the alternate aerodrome in Bobruisk. With regard to another 24 jets, we do not need them in principle. But it would be nice if we had more advanced aircraft in stock.

    Russian crews are on duty in Belarus on our assignment, and report to our armed forces. I want Belarusian and Russian pilots to fly together so that the Belarusians could polish their skills, and preserve traditions.

    Regardless of Russia's support in this matter I instructed the military to modernize ten Belarusian aircraft. By the end of the year, Su-27 and MiG-29 will be in service. I will show them to you in Baranovichi. This will be sufficient till 2025. We just need to maintain the aircraft in good condition.

    So there are no big problems. There is no pressure on the part of Russia. To send ten aircraft was my request. And we have them today.

    RIA Novosti: How long are they going to stay in Belarus?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: Belarus requested at least half of them for the period before and after the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

    I think after that Belarus and Russia will decide how long these aircraft will be deployed. I think they will be deployed as long as we want them here. If the President takes a decision to have them for a longer period of time and Russia agrees to, then they will stay here as long as necessary. Everything depends on Belarus.

    BelaPAN: You ahev already said about political prisoners and relations with the West. According to the European Union, the cardon of prisoners will be the main requirement for the improvement of relations with Belarus.Belarus-EU relations depend in fact on a signature of the Belarusian President. Why have not signed the document yet?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: It is not true. If there is a clemency petition, there will be the signature. Otherwise, neither the forthcoming ice hockey world championship, nor the anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War will help. This is my principled stance on that. And not only mine. We are a state, a country, so no one should bully us and treat us this way using their double or triple standards.

    The head of state has the right to pardon any person provided a certain procedure is observed. Indeed, there were such cases, but crimes are different. I do not know why you would get stuck on these several names. I often tell you and your defendants: do not make so much fuss about it. You are guilty, so let us resolve this issue domestically, in a calm way, without this drama. You brought these issues into the international level. The response was symmetrical, appropriate and adequate. However, my statement and my suggestions hold true.

    The First Channel of the Belarusian Radio: Is Belarus going to take additional security measures in connection with the events near its borders during the 2014 IIHF World Championship?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: It would be overreaching. Nothing extraordinary will happen when the country will host 10,000-20,000 foreign visitors. We are pragmatists and we are aware that among them will be some provocateurs, especially among journalists, or maybe in disguise of journalists.

    I urge everyone against fanning tensions and blackmailing Belarus with the world championship.

    There is no need to exaggerate the role of the world championship, as some westerners do. I am disgusted even reading: ‘Lukashenko is very interested in the future presidential elections and even more so in the world championship.’ Yes, they are important. But I suggest they stop using the world championship as a blackmail tool.

    They will not succeed in their attempts to overly politicize the world championship. We will not allow this. The West should understand this. Prior to important dates the West made repeated attempts to politically influence the head of state, and made promises to step up cooperation. But these promises were never fulfilled. I have been there. I know it. This is the third or fifth wave in my presidential life. Today the West can do nothing. Whatever they promise, they never fulfill. This is their politics.

    RIA Novosti: Mr President, you are an advocate of integration on the post-Soviet space. Ukraine wants to withdraw from the CIS. What do you think about it?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: I hope that those who have influence on Ukraine and Ukrainian politicians will be able to prevent the country from the ill-considered withdrawal from the CIS. Why would they do it? Is the CIS so binding for Ukraine?

    Why to hurry? If you do not want to attend the summit in Moscow, for example, (if you think Moscow is your enemy), do not go there, but let your ambassador represent you instead. If you do not want to go to Minsk (if you hate Minsk), do not go to this summit.

    Ukraine’s withdrawal from the CIS will be painful, but it will not deliver a deadly blow to the CIS, because the CIS is not living up to many expectations, unfortunately. If Ukraine withdraws from the CIS, let it be. The remaining countries will keep cooperating somehow.

    But I think this decision by Ukraine’s policy makers would be misguided, irrational and unreasonable. Why not use this platform to voice your position and get your message through to other states.

    BelaPAN: You have said that the government might be dismissed if it fails to achieve key economic objectives. The situation is not improving. The statistics shows that the inflation reached 3.6% within two months. Is this a good reason for the dismissal of the government? Who can be appointed the next Prime Minister?

    Aleksandr Lukashenko: You see what is happening around. The Kazakhstani tenge was devaluated, the Russian ruble was devaluated, too, and keeps weakening, and the Ukrainian economy collapsed. Europe is going through some hard times, too. These are our sales market; we sell 70% of the output.

    We are dependent on them in this regard. We should be realistic and keep in touch with reality. We are not gods, we cannot do everything. We have to back down to avoid shocks. Inflation is the way to back down.

    Who can become the new Prime Minister?

    If a decision is made to appoint a new Premier, everything will be done in line with the constitution. The President will suggest a candidate and submit this suggestion to the parliament for approval, you will discuss these candidates in detail; nobody will muzzle you, we have total democracy in this respect.

    There is a group of officials who might be considered for the post. In his words, this group is not so big and comprises about 35-40 people. These people are competent and know what is going on in the economy. This group includes 11 senior officials, ministers and governors. Premiers do not come out of nowhere. They are in the spotlight and you see them.