State of the Nation Address by Belarus President

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Belarus’ top priority is to build a stable and competitive economy, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko said in his State of the Nation Address on 21 April.

“Our top priority is to build a stable and competitive economy, the economy of tomorrow. This is the basis of our sovereignty. There is plenty of work to be done in this field. But we do not have to start from scratch. Over 25 years of independence Belarus has resolved many complex problems. The potential that we have enables Belarus to keep being resilient even in the most unfavorable times. The last year has proven this,” the head of state noted.

“Looking at other nations’ troubles, bloody civil strife, and devastation, we begin to appreciate the order and accord that we have even more. The country managed to keep out of conflicts. We have preserved friendly relations with the neighboring states. As the head of state, I take full responsibility for the following words: we will do everything to preserve our country’s foundation, Belarus’ liberty and independence,” the Belarusian leader underlined.

“This will be possible only if each Belarusian citizen will contribute to our common goal. Today the main goal is to unite the whole nation for the sake of a strong and safe state,” Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked.

The current year is of special importance for our progress towards the five-year performance targets.

The head of state noted that the decisions of the 5th Belarusian People’s Congress provided guidelines for tackling problems and advancing the country’s development. “We should catch up and achieve the objectives we set for the first two years of the current five-year period. This is why the current year is of special importance,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out. “I have already said: we will not have another year like this. If we do not move at least half a step forward, it is hard for me to say what may happen,” he added.

“If we fail to find additional opportunities for increasing the export of Belarusian products, we will have difficulty boosting our economy. Therefore, we should use all tools and resources to make high-quality competitive products with a high value added,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

It is also necessary to work to diversify exports however difficult it may be. “However, this should be done without damaging our positions in traditional markets, first of all, in the Russian Federation. The Russian head of state has recently invited us to participate in import substitution programs as we met in Saint Petersburg. That was the first time we had received such an invitation from him. With the sanctions in place, Russia has come to appreciate Belarus and realize that the Belarusian economy can be of use, including in terms of import substitution,” the Belarusian leader said.

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized the need of securing the green light to investors. “The first thing we should do is to change our attitude to investors. It is inadmissible for the capital owner to waste time knocking on different doors and seeking ways to invest in Belarus. We should secure the green light to the investor. All the relevant matters should be addressed in a speedy fashion for investors,” the head of state said.

According to the President, the country offers favorable conditions for investors. Belarus has secured macroeconomic and political stability, has developed the corresponding legislation. The country draws no distinction between domestic and foreign investors. “The question is: If we have all the necessary conditions, why is the volume of investment shrinking? Where do we fail to deliver?” the Belarusian leader said.

“Today, friendly China is overtaking the position of the world’s biggest investor. All our regions have established twinning relations with Chinese provinces, agreed on concrete projects. Why are there no tangible results?” the President wondered.

In the State of the Nation Address the President also spoke about Belarus’ relations with other countries. Belarus-Russia relations have traditionally been of a special strategic nature. “The achieved level of mutual understanding between the two countries, trusting relationship between the heads of state help us discuss all the sensitive issues frankly and find a compromise. This is how our last meeting was held. We managed to find solution to all sensitive issues for the good of Belarusians and Russians,” the president noted.

According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, this does not mean that there are no problems left. Belarus and Russia resolved the ones that have taken shape recently. “Life is life and everything can happen. Today Russia and Belarus have to deal with lots of troubles. But public officials of all levels should be wise enough not to let them mount up. Problems should be resolved,” Aleksandr Lukashenko summarized.

“Today is not the time to argue, exacerbate the situation. We need to come to agreements as both we and Russia have a lot of problems. We can and should address these problems together, from security issues to RUB5 billion [earlier issued loans],” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

In his words, the two countries’ advantages are laid out in the documents adopted in the UnionState and the Eurasian Economic Union. The two states just need to follow them, implement the agreements that make part of these documents.

The head of state said: “We feel offended when they say that we live at Russia’s expense, that we beg for something. Nothing of the kind. The Russian authorities do not think so,” the President stressed.

“We are not sponges. First of all, by supporting us you support yourselves. Secondly, the only thing we need is equal conditions for work,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said, taking note of the development of common markets in the Eurasian Economic Union.

Speaking about the relations with China, the President stressed that a new impulse will spur the advancement of economic cooperation.

The head of state said: “We are happy that our relations with the People’s Republic of China have reached the level of comprehensive strategic partnership. Today a lot has already been said about our main projects. Along with expanding bilateral cooperation we support each other in the international scene virtually in all areas. We enjoy very kind, positively developing relations with China and its leaders.”

In his words, another top-level visit will give a new impulse to the advancement of relations not only in diplomacy and politics but also in economy.

The establishment of proper relations between Belarus and the European Union and the USA continues. The head of state said: “The effort represents a key to investments, modern technologies, resources, and large markets. The nascent dialogue serves not only mutually beneficial economic interests. It is meant to support political stability in the European region. Belarus has been and will remain a reliable partner in fighting the main transboundary threats. A lot can be accomplished in this field if we get rid of the habit of eyeing each other with prejudice and mistrust. If double standards are no longer in use. If we are no longer lectured and saddled with preliminary conditions. All these factors are not acceptable for us just like for any other country.”

In his words, Belarusian-American relations have been virtually on the backburner for many years. “We have to make up for it. However, the fact that we speak to each other and listen is what’s important today,” noted the President.

“As far as the European Union is concerned, it is vital for us this year to make substantial headway in enabling full-value cooperation with the European Union across the board. We appreciate their lifting restrictions from Belarus. Various bilateral instruments of the political dialogue are developing,” said the Belarusian leader.

Belarus has always maintained an active stance in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “This is why we are particularly proud of the fact that we’ve been entrusted with hosting a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. It is important that hundreds of European parliamentarians will come here. They will see with their own eyes how modern Belarus lives and grows, what Belarusian people are concerned about. We have nothing to hide. We will open doors to everyone willing to come here and see our country,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Addressing representatives of the European Union, Aleksandr Lukashenko once again asked them to abandon old principles in relations with Belarus. “Stop spurring us! You claim that some excessive force was used in Belarus. We can see that same things happen in the European Union, too. Did we use water cannons or tear gas or something else against street protesters? We didn’t! But you did and at the same time! And now the countries that poison street protestors with tear gas are starting to rebuke us for using some force. A strange approach indeed,” said the President.

The head of state said that there are substantial shortcomings in some Western countries as far as public security is concerned. “Is it a good thing that street protesters are allowed to destroy things? And they do so in civilized and prosperous countries. If these things go too far, the forces you are afraid of — we don’t welcome them here either — will take power away from you. Then you will understand what you’ve lost,” stressed the Belarusian leader.

As an example Aleksandr Lukashenko mentioned the situation concerning the punishment for the terrorist attack committed by Norwegian Anders Breivik. “He is complaining about his residential accommodations. His computer in his three-room apartment is not the kind he wanted… We don’t get it. Are you trying to make us treat mass murderers like that?” Aleksandr Lukashenko was indignant.

“You are going to see the error of your ways soon. Let’s resolve these problems together. Where is your so-called democracy and tolerance? You spout slogans in defense of human rights all the time. But how do you treat migrants and kids, who drown in the Mediterranean Sea? You were the ones, who stirred up trouble across the entire Middle East. Why don’t you take responsibility for it?” noted the president. “You should be ashamed for blaming Belarus in this situation. You asked me to open doors for Ukrainians, who had nowhere to go (160,000 people). While Poland couldn’t welcome mere 5,000 refugees, we welcomed more than 160,000. We do everything for the sake of peace.”

The President stated that there are also problems in trade and economic relations. “Give us an acceptable loan to buy equipment. You will get the money back anyway. But no, we can only get expensive loans… Everything’s closed. It is impossible to properly sell textiles or other commodity groups,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “What if I decide to close borders for you? What roads will you take then? We don’t do such things and would like you to understand us.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko called for trouble-free cooperation and said the Belarusian side was ready for it. “But don’t push us all the time in the back,” he said. “Tell us what you want. We will tell you what we are capable of today.”

“If you want to argue about democracy with me, let’s arrange a public discussion in your media. I will be alone against all of you. And I will prove my point to your nations and they will make certain conclusions whether Lukashenko is right or not. We will survive. Don’t worry. Truth will always win. But you could really use what you can get here, in this corner of Earth. This is why, Europeans, come to your senses and let’s work together on stabilizing the situation in Europe. We can offer a lot to you and you will benefit from taking part in many processes,” concluded the Belarusian leader.

There is a possibility of new dividing lines emerging within and around the European Union.

“Migration threats stimulated serious transformation processes within the EU. Let’s take Brexit for example. It heralded the qualitatively new realities on the continent, the political and economic consequences of which the Europeans have yet to comprehend. Its direct consequence was the development by the EU of the model of its future arrangement. Here we see again an interest in the idea of multi-speed integration. After this, we may witness the emergence of new dividing lines within the EU and around it. The European Union has to deal with all of these challenges virtually ‘on the march’,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled that in due time the idea of multi-speed integration was put forward when the Eurasian Economic Union was being set up and when there were attempts to scale back the development of the Union State with Russia. “Back then we offered multi-speed integration. The vitality of this idea was confirmed in practice,” the President said.

According to him, the contours of the new United States Administration foreign policy are becoming clearer. “The recent activity in Syria, the tensions on the Korean peninsula raise fresh concerns as to whether Washington will be able to withstand the temptation to again try to dictate their will to the rest of the world. I sincerely hope that the common sense will prevail in all geopolitical players this time,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Belarus is ready to continue to host the talks on Ukraine. The President stated that the armed hostilities continue in Donbass. Not a single point of the Minsk Agreement has been implemented in full.

“People continue to die, including civilians. The region has practically submerged into a social and economic chaos. Ukraine is not just our neighbor. It is our brotherly state, our brotherly people. We have hosted over 160,000 forced migrants from Ukraine. We are ready to continue assisting these complicated negotiations as they have already started affecting the life of our people and the operation of our state,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Belarus is ready, at any moment, to host dialogue similar to the Helsinki Process. “The events taking place in the world and on  the continent demonstrate, again and again, the relevance of the Belarusian initiative to start a new large-scale dialogue between the East and the West similar to the Helsinki process. I confirm: Minsk is ready, at any moment, to become the venue of dialogue aimed at understanding the new rules the world order,” the head of state noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the modern world is changing rapidly, moving away from stability and security. More and more disturbing processes happen in the world today. The already known challenges and threats get aggravated, qualitatively new ones emerge. Unfortunately, painful development of the new world order happens not so much at the negotiating table, but in hot spots. The deficit of willingness of the influential world players to compromise, the disturbance of the old system of checks and balances, the desire of certain states to ‘lex the muscles’ are becoming dangerous trends,” the Belarusian leader noted.

The President said that, in fact, we are witnessing a drift towards the new bloc confrontation. “Today, no one can feel safe. Who could have imagined that whole areas of individual states will come under the control of terrorists? Who could have imagined that in prosperous Europe people will die from explosions or under the wheels of trucks driven by fanatics? The tragic events of the past year showed that any citizen of any state anywhere in the world can face the threat of terrorism. In recent weeks alone, we saw bloody terrorist attacks in St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Tanta, Alexandria. These are the realities of today,” the head of state noted.

Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to the problems in the field of migration. “Millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa flooded the European continent. The scale of illegal migration is forcing Europeans to become seriously concerned about their identity. EU countries were not ready for such a massive flow. They try, with mixed success, to devise measures to streamline the system. Illegal migration entails crime, terrorism,” the President noted.

Belarus should become one of the hubs of a new Silk Road project in Eurasia. According to the head of state, the world economy is going though fundamental transformations. Alongside huge social and economic challenges and imbalances, we see new global cooperation projects emerge such as the Silk Road Economic Belt. “Belarus cannot stay aside from these processes. We should become one of the hubs of the Silk Road in the Eurasian region. We must make the maximum use of the incentives that China offers while promoting this initiative,” the Belarusian leader said.

“A distinctive feature of the project (however much it is criticized and hindered by the United States and especially the European Union) is mutual benefits. China is investing enormous funds in the states that will take part of the Silk Road. Wise Chinese have made the right conclusion from the current situation. They are not pushing their idea, paving the way to new markets with the help of force, cruising missiles. They are supporting the nations who will be promoting the Silk Road,” the President said.

“Belarus is a country open to all geopolitical and economic ‘winds’ and everything which is taking place around us seriously affects the development of our state. We cannot and must not isolate ourselves from the world. A big part of products we make is bound for export. We have to keep our doors open whether we want it or not. By the way, it is not in the nature of friendly and hospitable Belarusians to build dividing walls. We follow other principles. Cooperation and creation are the foundation of our policy,” the Belarusian leader said.

“We have been pinning hopes on the Eurasian Economic Union. We have reached many agreements to facilitate the movement of goods, capital, and labor, create equal economic conditions. All we had to do is to establish systematic work and move along the chosen path. We have not done this yet,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

He pointed out that it is not that difficult to sign a free trade agreement between the EAEU and a certain country. “All this sounds quite good. However, it has turned out that it is a much more challenging task to work consistently to establish equal relations of mutual trust based on the agreements signed by the member states,” the head of state noted.

“We are constantly trying to settle our disputes. We criticize one another for dumping policies. We also have issues with distributing our common credit resources. We should understand one thing: the market of the Eurasian Economic Union is not a market of some country and the allies that have joined it. It is our common fully-fledged market, and by developing it we will manage to cope with any sanctions and successfully tackle our economic differences,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.

Protectionist measures have had negative influence on the EAEU causing a decline in the trade among its member states.

It was partially due to these measures that Belarus did not achieve its export targets in 2016. The country’s GDP fell by several percentage points, the inflow of investments also dropped, the situation on the labor market deteriorated, and the real income of