Press conference for Russian mass media

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Russia was and remains a brotherly state for Belarus, President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus said at the press conference for the Russian regional mass media on 17 November.

The head of state remarked that the press conference for the representatives of the Russian regional mass media has become a good tradition. “The main goal of such meetings is the rapprochement of our nations, the possibility to provide objective information about Belarus,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “The Russian Federation was and remains not only a strategic partner but also a brotherly state for us.”

The President remarked that regional cooperation is a cornerstone of Belarus-Russia integration. “It was reaffirmed once again during the forum of regions of the two countries in Minsk in June 2016. Back then, the specialized exposition, just like the previous one in Sochi, showcased the practical results of our joint work,” the Belarusian leader said. “Thanks to this regional cooperation, we are having this meeting today and can say that we are brotherly nations. The regions of the Russian Federation saved the brotherhood of the two Slavonic states.”

The participants of the forum of regions in Minsk signed a record number of agreements, commercial contracts to the tune of $300 million. The participation of the presidents of Belarus and Russia made this event even more important. In their remarks the two leaders pointed out the significance of interregional ties and agreed to do their best to develop them.

“That is why we regularly invite you, the representatives of the Russian regional mass media, to Belarus. We want you to provide an objective picture of our state to people living in the Volga region, the Ural region, Siberia, Far East, Kuban – all regions of your huge country. The development of regional cooperation largely depends on what you will see here and on how you will tell your audience about it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained. “This cooperation has a good dynamics today. Dozens of delegations of Russian regions led by the governors of these regions visit Belarus every year. There are many reciprocal visits.”

The head of state remarked that more than 8,000 Belarusian and Russian enterprises maintain industrial cooperation. There are over 70 joint ventures making Belarusian equipment in Russia. Russian companies also implement a number of large-scale projects in Belarus. For example, they are involved in the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant.

An Omsk-based enterprise is going to produce technical carbon in Mogilev Oblast. A group of Russian companies has launched the manufacture of waterproof layers in Gomel Oblast. Leningrad Oblast enterprises take part in the projects to set up a logistics center and a cattle breeding complex in Belarus.

“I would like to note that we stay committed to all the agreements with our brotherly Russia within the Union State, the CSTO, and the EEU. We protect the economic interests of the Russian Federation, cut short any attempts to import the banned products from the West. At the same time we are doing our best to replace them with Belarusian goods. Amid the current complicated situation on the sale markets, we suggest introducing the Union State Product notion into the bilateral legal framework. This would secure equal access for our and your products to national and regional programs to support domestic producers,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“Today Belarus and Russia have every chance to raise relations to a new level and give a new impetus to speedy development of the Eurasian Economic Union. I would like to stress that the Union State served as the basis for the development of the union. With the whole range of goals and tasks included into the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty, this integration association still has a long road to cover in order to reach the level of integration of the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” the President said.

The head of state noted that the people of the two countries have already got accustomed to the absence of borders between the two states, equal access to education, healthcare, and employment, single approaches to the system of social guarantees, the freedom of movement and the choice of place of residence.

“Our strong Union State relations are demonstrated in the international arena every time we face new threats and challenges. Today our planet is in the grip of civil discords, terrorism and military conflicts. Discussing these issues with the Russian President, we have always demonstrated our complete agreement in their assessment. The two countries have no disagreements on the international agenda. When the matter pertains to the international policy, Belarus and Russia act as one body,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

In this challenging time, Belarusians and Russians need to stick together, be strong, command respect, and defend interests together. “We have one big achievement - peace and stability. We must at all costs protect this heritage. So that we do not have to spill blood protecting the peaceful lives of people, as it happens in many places. Sadly, this is what happens in a very close and dear country, in Ukraine. We have shared pain and glory, and common future. You will never be strangers in Belarus,” the head of state stressed.

A meeting of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled for 22 November.

“We have very many problems, which should not be there and which sometimes overshadow our relations. This is why I often wonder what good things, what new things we have had in the Union State recently. Unfortunately, the answer is nothing. We have more negative things. We have tentatively agreed with the Russian President to meet on 22 November. We will sit down and discuss a number of important issues,” the head of state explained.  

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, the talk will not be about conceptual matters. “We have already made all the necessary decisions. We just have to fulfill these agreements. There are some unsettled issues. We will discuss them one-on-one. We will do out best to reach agreements and add a new impetus to our relations,” the President stressed.

When asked about the avenues of Belarus-Russia cooperation which require special attention, Aleksandr Lukashenko first of all mentioned areas of ordinary life. “Food, clothes, safety and security are important for people. Other issues, for example, defense capacity are also important. It is one of the main areas of our cooperation. But let’s be honest: no one will attack us tomorrow or the day after tomorrow because they know that we can strike back. Therefore, I think that the main danger is to get caught up in problems and forget about ordinary life, repeating the mistakes of the past,” the head of state underlined.

According to the President, the economy is another area of focus. “They often say that Lukashenko is seeking gain. As if Vladimir Putin does not seek benefits. The Russian government will always protect its interests. Yes, they can make concessions for the sake of future benefits. There are no fools in the Russian government. They calculate everything. Some people, for example, from private business, have their lobbies, and certain disputes concerning consumer goods emerge as a result,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. He said that all Russian journalists could get familiar with Belarusian products and make sure of their quality. “We have preserved GOST standards, while you replaced them with technical regulations. When your manufacturers cannot compete with ours in terms of quality and prices, they complain to the government saying that Lukashenko failed to deliver products properly and on time,” the Belarusian leader said. In his words, after such allegations Rosselkhoznadzor and Rospotrebnadzor start looking for the reasons to ban the deliveries of Belarusian products.

The President said the established market rules are not always observed. “But we can shift to other markets. If Russia does not give us oil, we can pay a bit more and buy it in other countries. Will we then have any interest in Russia? The economy is the foundation of any relations. If we have solid economic ties, no one will break them. Ukraine tried to, and what did they get in return? Belarus and Russia do not need this, but we need to treat each other in a civilized way,” he said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reiterated that such issues can be solved. “People’s lives, their security and wellbeing are the priority. It is a very important issue for us, and we must take care of it. Then we will gradually handle other issues, including space exploration and defense. People need to make their living, take care of their families, have warm clothes in winter. We must solve these issues as well as the strategic ones,” the President concluded.

Belarus and Russia have so far failed to provide equal conditions for economic entities, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the press conference for the Russian regional mass media.

To cite an example, Aleksandr Lukashenko compared the production costs at the Belarusian automobile engineering company MAZ and Russia’s KamAZ. He pointed out that KamAZ pays $65 per one cubic meter of natural gas, while the price for MAZ is $278. The price of electric power is 2.8 cents and 12 cents respectively. “How can we compete when the economic entities have been operating in unequal conditions? The difference is enormous. To compete on your market, on our common market, we have to cut down on all our expenditures, including wages. Because of that, the taxes are lower, the military whose work is to protect our common space are paid less, and so on,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

“We have declared our intention to ensure equal conditions, and this goal has not been achieved yet. We explain to the people that we simply cannot raise wages even with this strict saving mode,” the head of state said.

Asked what prevents Belarusian companies from resuming oil extraction in Russia just like it was done in the USSR times, Aleksandr Lukashenko explained: “The attitude of the Russian leadership is the stumbling block. The Russian leadership would be unable to influence Belarus if we were allowed to extract oil and later on natural gas ourselves. To be honest, you said nearly exactly what I say: when Belarus and Russia argue about oil or natural gas deliveries, I remind Russian leaders about how Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Russians worked together to extract oil in the USSR. Back then we didn’t divide things,” noted the head of state.

The President stressed that trying to sway Belarus using oil and gas deliveries is an incorrect approach. “If someone in Russia thinks that they can influence Belarus because we buy oil and natural gas from them, they are wrong. They can influence but it is better to influence via common projects. I am in favor of projects that bring Belarus and Russia closer to each other instead of forcing us to bend to Russia’s will. The world is different now. It is not the world where a country can be forced to bend,” stated Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The head of state underlined that Belarus considers various options for getting oil. “Oil is abundant these days. Yes, the price can be higher, but we have several options in mind. We may deliver oil via Ukraine. We utilized the option in the past when Russia stopped selling oil to us. Back then we delivered Venezuelan oil via Ukraine. If we utilize these options, then a different kind of oil will get to the Russian market since we process 25 million tonnes and 60-80 million tonnes of Russian oil is pumped via Belarus to Western Europe. We could work out a balance of interests and come to terms. We could but have been unable to do that so far,” remarked Aleksandr Lukashenko.

The President reminded that back in the USSR Belarus would extract up to 7 million tonnes of oil per annum. In 2016 Belarusian companies intend to extract 1.6 million tonnes. “Seven million would be enough to satisfy Belarus’ domestic demand. If we had 7-8 million tonnes per annum, we would have no problems and Belarus would be the most prosperous European country,” concluded Aleksandr Lukashenko.

“Russians often criticize us saying that ‘Lukashenko does not want to privatize four enterprises’,” Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the press conference for the Russian regional mass media on 17 November.

The head of state said that Russia would like Belarus to sell four major enterprises. These include a manufacturer of trailers and vehicles for the transportation of Topols, nuclear warheads, missiles. “Belarus is the only manufacturer. In the USSR, it was a powerful enterprise. We saved it and upgraded it. Russians also have their eye on the space industry enterprises. For example, Integral manufactures computing technology, integrated circuits. They also want them privatized,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The head of state pointed out that Belarus has its own interests. “You have interest in these companies; you want to buy them out. I have an interest in oil production. You supply us with 25 million tonnes which we process locally. We would like to pump some 7-8 million tonnes ourselves and deliver them to the country. When the privatization of Bashneft was announced, I sent a proposal to your government and leadership. I think that Belarusians would understand me if we gave these enterprises, on condition they operate better than today, in exchange for the Bashneft shares which were transferred or sold to Rosneft. So far there has been no answer, which means there is no interest,” the President stressed.

Belarus is ready to supply the necessary amounts of food to Russia at competitive prices.

“For us Russia is the premium market today. The Russian leadership requests us to supply certain amount, especially during the autumn-winter period. We even redirect exports from other markets in favor of Russia,” the head of state noted

The President noted that the Belarusian products are in demand. Belarus exports its goods to various regions of the world. There is an interest on the part of the United Arab Emirates. Representatives of Russian regions may apply to any manufacturer.

“Most important thing is to exclude intermediaries. If we have five intermediaries in the supply chain what the final price will be I wonder?” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted stressing that if there is a desire to buy Belarusian goods that are competitive in quality and price, Belarus is ready to meet the demand.

“There are no Belarusian guest workers in Russia. There are only organized construction brigades there,” the President stressed commenting on some Russian media reports of about 1 million Belarusian guest workers in Russia.

Some time ago the Moscow authorities asked Belarus to send qualified specialists: bricklayers, tile-layers and many others. “Our construction sector was on the rise then and I offered our help. We set up subsidiaries of our state companies and sent our specialists to Russia, first of all, to Moscow,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Today Belarusians prefer official employment in such companies. “We do not encourage our people to go there by themselves. We do our utmost to reach an agreement, unite them into brigades. We keep in touch with the embassy and local authorities in order to provide our people with decent working conditions,” the head of state explained.

Russian citizens find work in Belarus in the similar way. Aleksandr Lukashenko cited the ongoing construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant as an example. “They are provided with good living conditions there. We have already built thousands of flats for the people who have come from Russia to build the plant,” the President said. Once the nuclear power plant is commissioned, the housing will be provided to those who will work at the facility. Russians can make part of its personnel as well.

Ten million people in Russia have jobs thanks to the cooperation with Belarusian industrial enterprises, Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

“If the Belarusian economy comes to a halt, ten million people in Russia will lose jobs. We buy equipment parts, raw materials and other products from many Russian plants,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Russian enterprises produce 50-60% of the parts used by the Belarusian plants. “Manufacturing industry, agriculture sector give jobs to at least 10 million Russians,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

The head of state said a few words about the cooperation with Russia’s Yaroslavl Oblast and noted that Belarus is ready to continue its cooperation with Tutaev Motor Plant. Engines manufactured at this enterprise are used in the production of Gomselmash grain harvesters and other vehicles. Yaroslavl Oblast imports Belarus-made food products. Cheese enjoys a special demand.

“Belarusian soul is in the Russian language. We have lived together for a very long period of time, speaking one language, putting our soul and our values in it. It is our common language, our greatest asset,” the head of state noted, stressing that this legacy cannot be abandoned.

He reminded the media that a referendum was held in Belarus to give Russian a status of a state language, and the idea was supported by the majority of Belarusians.

According to the President, the recent polls showed that over 90% of Belarusian residents are in favor of “exclusively good relations with Russia”.

Speaking about different media reports of the ongoing process of so-called “soft Belarusianism” and the harassment of Russian people in the country, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “Half of the Belarusian government are Russians. We have no such problems. There are no religious and interethnic conflicts in Belarus. We are proud about this.”