Alexander Lukashenko: ‘The present time is both a challenge and a chance’


The Belarusian President’s meeting with the heads of overseas institutions is a traditional event, yet rare. Judging from the character and core of Alexander Lukashenko’s talk with diplomats, it could be well compared to his annual State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly. Strategic accents of foreign policy — topical at the present time — are being outlined. With this in mind, it was logical that the agenda mainly tackled the economic constituent of the country’s presence on the international arena. Shrinking markets and the reduction of purchasing power — caused by the crisis — make the country pay special attention to foreign economic activity. It seems that a country boasting an open, export-oriented economy has no more serious task. This is why Mr. Lukashenko called the meeting ‘very important’. He outlined the focus of the talk at the beginning of the meeting, “The strategic issue necessary for our states’ survival is selling the products manufactured in our country.”

Almost all aspects of foreign economic activity were discussed in detail during the meeting. After listening to all opinions, the President came to a conclusion. He believes that a turning point will follow a succession of crises; this will inevitably result in the correction of global policy. Belarus needs not only to find, but to occupy, its place in this renewing world order.

According to the President, in recent years, the nature of Belarusian foreign policy has significantly changed. Firstly, the policy is no longer one-dimensional. It is truly dynamic and multiple-vector. “It is not a turn towards the West, South or East. It’s an advance forward,” said Mr. Lukashenko, adding, “This topic has recently caused much speculation, especially in the context of our relations with Russia and the European Union… There is only one mistake in these discussions — Belarus is being viewed as an object of someone else’s interests.” One of the major points the President voiced at the meeting is that Belarusian ‘independence is not against one party, but from everyone’.

Secondly, at present, nobody doubts the sovereignty of the Belarusian state and its full independence in the choice of its course; this was not a common situation several years ago.

The third important feature of the Belarusian foreign policy of modern times is its diversification. However rich a source of energy is, vulnerability arises if this source is the only one. Generally speaking, diversification tackles not only energy but the presence of foreign capital. “A combination of capital from Russia, the West and third countries would be optimal for Belarus. We are working upon this,” Mr. Lukashenko stressed.

Fourthly, Belarus has recently made a breakthrough into the historically new dimension along the North-South line. This was achieved through building advanced and mutually profitable relations with powerful China, India, Venezuela, Iran, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf countries.

The fifth feature is that Belarus has turned out to be capable of working with these partners in dramatically new forms. In particular, since 2008, Belarus has been prospecting for and extracting Venezuelan oil.

Sixthly, Mr. Lukashenko called the established security system ‘complex’. “Our conceptual stand is a direct interdependence of the sustainable development of the economy and the achievement of national security,” he remarked, adding that Belarus will develop these major principles of its foreign policy in the near and mid-term future.

Later, Mr. Lukashenko tackled the development of relations with the country’s major foreign political partners. He stressed that ‘Belarus has seen, and now sees, Russia as its main ally’. In his view, the Union State of Belarus and Russia is an incomplete project rather than a failure. According to the Belarusian Head of State, disputes with Russia are becoming more frequent and serious — these arouse concern and ‘sometimes pain and disappointment’. Russia is now re-considering relations not only within the Union State but on the CIS territory as well. “This process is probably appropriate, but we should not forget that the syndrome of heavy-handed ‘imperial ambitions’ in the relations with close partners can trigger the opposite effect,” Mr. Lukashenko stressed.

“Of course, we welcome the brand new status of relations with the European Union,” admitted the President, saying that ‘the changing direction of Belarus’ co-operation with the EU is not the result of bargaining, accommodations or PR goals’. Meanwhile, Minsk clearly realises that dialogue with the EU won’t be simple. “No one denies that democracy is a good business. However, any hastily adopted democracy is unstable,” Mr. Lukashenko added.

According to the President, Washington is now re-considering the place and role of the USA in the system of international relations. “I hope this process will positively affect Belarus as well,” he added. Belarus expects the USA to lift economic sanctions — this will be a signal of a complete readiness to fully restore the mutual diplomatic presence. “It’s of principal importance that the EU, which is governed by the new relations with Belarus, as well as the US Administration, do not aim to shift the acting power in our country. This means there is now a realisation of the possibility to move towards a single goal by different ways,” the President said.

Mr. Lukashenko stated with satisfaction that Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan have eventually approached the completion of the formation of a Customs Union; however, the possible result of this union still remains unclear. “Sadly, Ukraine — the country which is of principal value for the wider fate of our region — does not actually participate in these integration processes [on the post-Soviet space — author]. We treat its choice with respect. Meanwhile, Ukraine remains a part of us,” admitted the President. The mutual trade with Ukraine is in second place in terms of volume — only Russia is ahead. Moreover, under the current economic conditions, Ukraine is a prospective way for Belarus to deliver energy.

“Tough game rules are operating in the world,” Mr. Lukashenko said, referring to foreign economic relations. “It’s necessary to concentrate on the reforming of our domestic economy.” In other words, it’s necessary to shift from primitive trade to sophisticated network trading and after-sale services. It’s also evident that traditional exports should be combined — and, in some cases, even replaced by — with an assembly abroad; this experience has already justified itself. “We need to examine and acquire companies, banks and trading networks abroad, or buy stakes in them,” the President is convinced. “This crisis, which is a time of opportunities, is pushing us to engage in this business, which is new for us.”

In his talk, the President addressed all important aspects of foreign economic activity under the crisis conditions — including the structure of exports, Internet use and the investment climate. “The present time is both a challenge and a chance,” he said, and these words were the true keynote of the recent meeting.

[i]By Igor Kolchenko, Dmitry Kryat[/i]
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