Session to discuss integration projects and cooperation with European organizations

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Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko held a session to discuss integration projects and cooperation with European organizations on 5 March.

Opening the session, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the State of the Nation Address is usually preceded by open and closed sessions, meetings and consultations to discuss important matters. “They will underlie some statements to be made on behalf of the President,” he explained.

The matters to be discussed today are of strategic importance to the state,Aleksandr Lukashenko added. “At present, no country, be them superpowers like the United States of America, China, India and Russia, cannot maintain sustainable development on their own, apart from each other and the entire world,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

He noted that there are many associations in the world that are designed to facilitate economic growth, maintain security and good living standards of people. “We make part of some of them and cooperate with others. But how?  How can the Belarusian people benefit from them? How efficiently do we use the instruments to defend our interests,” the head of state wondered.

On Union State construction

Speaking about the relations with Russia, the President reminded that the Russian government has put forward an initiative to revise the approaches to integration. “We are prepared for that. At the government level we have created groups for the preparation of proposals regarding the further development of integration processes between the two states. And today we need to once again revise the results of this work, if there are any,” the President said.

“We need to once again analyze if there are any untapped resources and how we can use them,” the head of state said.

“Belarus remains absolutely committed to the idea of the Union State construction. I want, first of all, our allies and opponents in the Russian Federation to hear that. And the main principle of this project is the creation of equal conditions for our compatriots and economic operators. The principle of equal conditions should be strictly fulfilled. The postulate of sovereignty also remains unshakeable for Belarus,” the head of state said.

The President remarked that historically the broadest field for interaction has been with Russia. However, because of that certain issues emerge from time to time, the countries need to address and solve them. “The most topical issues are in the economic dimension today. There are virtually no problems in other fields,” the Belarusian leader said.

There are attempts in the Russian media space to produce fake news by decontextualizing and distorting the statements made during the recent Big Conversation with the President event, Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “This became particularly pronounced following the Big Conversation – fake news, one-sided reporting, attempts to quote statements, first of all my statements, out of context and interpret them any way they like in the Russian Federation,” the head of state said.

To illustrate his point, the President cited speculations around a possibility to introduce a common currency for Belarus and Russia. This was presented in a way as if the Belarusian head of state gave a go-ahead for this move. “Before you agree on something, you should receive a proposal. If such a suggestion is made, you can agree or disagree, or reject it. Neither I nor Belarus were approached with such a proposal. Answering a question, I supposed that if this question is raised, Belarusians will not be against the common ruble. However, this is not the point. The big question is how to manage processes on the currency and financial markets, what kind of emission center we will have. It does not matter where it will be located. It is important what kind of functions it will assume. Those were my considerations,” the President said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that before we speak about the common ruble, we need to advance in resolving issues at a lower level. “Today nearly 80% of our trade with Russia is settled in Russian rubles. I have recently approached the President [of Russia] with a suggestion: before we embark on something big, let us switch entirely to Russian rubles in our trade. This is our proposal. We are not afraid of it, but no one agrees to that. It means that Russia refuses to trade with its closest partner in Russian rubles preferring the hard currency - the ‘enemy’s’ dollars and euro. What is the point of the common ruble then?” the Belarusian leader wondered.

The head of state emphasized that it is imperative that the matter of the common currency is approached proceeding from the principle of equality.

The President offered another example of fake news: Lukashenko stated that if a referendum on the unification [with Russia] takes place, 98% of Belarusians will vote against. “What I meant is that 98% or more Belarusians will definitely vote against making Belarus part of Russia. The question of unification cannot be put to a referendum, because this is a very slippery matter: what is unification (what kind of unification will it be and on what terms)? This matter can never be put to a referendum, because the very question is controversial and the answer will be controversial, too,” the Belarusian head of state said.

“This is how they turn things upside down in Russia and provoke some speculations. This is how they reach their goal, namely to accuse Lukashenko of undermining the integration processes. Neither Belarus nor above all Lukashenko undermines the integration. Because it is our life. If there is no integration, if there are no associations like this, of which we are part, then there is no economy of Belarus, because it is export oriented. The integration is vitally important for us,” the Belarusian leader noted.

He also suggested looking deeper and offered his opinion on why Russia constantly raises such issues as incorporation or the common ruble: “Because they understand that we cannot accept it in principle. Since we cannot and will not, well, then this is it. It is them who do not want this integration. We are not the one to blame here.”

On Eurasian integration

The President also mentioned the absence of progress in the Eurasian integration. “Many economic matters were transferred from the Union State agenda to the EAEU. Unfortunately, Eurasian integration is turning or has already turned back. I learn about barriers, obstacles and restrictions for our economic operators. The absence of meaningful efforts to remove them is covered by some digital agenda,” the head of state said.

He emphasized that the EAEU was supposed to achieve some other goals as well, for example, the establishment of the common market and enforcement of equal conditions. “Maybe, we need to go back to the package principle in addressing some burning issues and in removing barriers and restrictions? The answer to this question is important for the future of Eurasian integration,” the Belarusian leader said.

On economic dimension of CIS

The President noted that the CIS remains a key market for Belarus, as Belarusian products are well known in the CIS member states. “Therefore the economic dimension is a priority for the government. The CIS is the only uniting link, the only possibility to build relations in a way for many post-Soviet countries,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated.

“I would add Ukraine and Georgia to this group, because we trade a lot with these countries and maintain good relations with them,” the head of state said.

On situation in CSTO

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that military-political cooperation within the framework of the CSTO is important for Belarus. “Today this is the most important area where we should focus our efforts because of the politico-military trends in the world, especially after the two major nuclear powers withdrew from the INF Treaty. In view of the global developments the importance of this organization is of no doubt. But now the organization is caught in some unhealthy situation. Take, for example, the routine issue of appointment of the secretary general,” the President said.

On cooperation with European Union

The President stressed that Belarus has been successfully developing a dialogue with its second largest partner, the European Union. “Investments are on the rise, the trade surplus has been growing, contacts are developing. Last year saw a record high volume of cooperation with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.”

He added that the loan agreements were reached during the recent talks with the EBRD: “The agreements cover the most important areas, including renovation and upgrade projects, construction of new water facilities, bridges and roads in Belarus.”

According to the Belarusian leader, the Eastern Partnership is becoming more pragmatic, offering a bigger number of interesting projects to Belarus. “This cooperation with the west causes some kind of allergy and sometimes hysteria of our main partner, the Russian Federation (I mean, individual politicians) today. What is this hysteria for? You restrict market access for our products, call us parasites, squeeze us out where you can. What should we do? Go away and stay mealy-mouthed?” Aleksandr Lukashenko asked.

“If you close the door in our face, we start searching for other options so that our state should live a normal life. No one can blame us for going somewhere. We do not need to choose. We need to be always on the move because we are in the epicenter, in the center of Europe,” the President said. “We need to secure good living conditions for our 10 million population. We would not have to seek happiness far away if we had good economic relations with Russia, if we secured free movement of products, workforce and services on equal terms (as we agreed on in the Union State, the Eurasian Economic Union)?”

“However, the ice in relations with the European Union has not melted away. Brussels has extended its restrictive measures, even though symbolic. A fly in the ointment. They make almost no sense but carry some symbolic meaning. The EU bargains with us even on trifles. The EU evades talking about the new framework agreement. So far there is no clear legal framework of interaction,” the President said.

The head of state stressed that the EU has such agreements with Russia and other former Soviet countries. “By the way, Russia’s relations with the European Union, the United States and NATO are much more advanced. And we do not rebuke Russia for that. We look for benefits in these agreements. We are not trying to scuttle their efforts or impede them. We are in favor of these efforts. I think Russia must act the same way and support us. Not in words but in deeds,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko called the signing of the Partnership Priorities Agreement and the readmission and visa facilitation agreement with the EU among the overriding goals in cooperation with the European Union. “The EU, however, should understand that any ideas alien to our people and changes to the detriment of the national interests are absolutely inadmissible for us,” he concluded.

On relations with NATO

“Three states bordering Belarus are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And Ukraine is craving to join it. This is a certain challenge and a breeding ground for confrontation, especially amid pleas and plans strengthen military presence,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

In his words, neither Belarus nor its neighbors need dividing lines. “Therefore, it is necessary to establish mutually respectful relations with NATO which would eventually enhance the security of our country. We must talk to them. We should not look at them like at our enemies,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

On joining WTO

“We need to actively promote the idea of integration of integrations in order to ease the bloc confrontation. The unique position at the crossroads of the EAEU and the EU should bring benefits to Belarus. The western and eastern vectors of the Belarusian foreign policy should balance each other," the President said. “We will reach this balance only when the EU market becomes a real alternative to the Russian one,” the head of state said.

In his words, the same can be said about the Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organization. “Don’t join the WTO for the sake of accession. I will not sign any document on Belarus’ accession to the WTO unless I have clear evidence that this will bring tangible benefits,” the Belarusian leader said.

“Otherwise, we will eventually end up moaning and groaning, like it is the case with the EAEU,” the head of state added.