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

ON MEETING DOMESTIC DIPLOMATS, THE PRESIDENT OF BELARUS ONCE MORE OUTLINES STRATEGIC ACCENTS OF FOREIGN POLICY
The CIS summit — held in Chisinau on October 9th — demonstrated two things: sadly, the organisation is experiencing a deep crisis, with declared decisions going unrealised, yet its members remain keen to preserve the Commonwealth

Several days after the summit, Dmitry Medvedev presided over Russia’s Security Council session, proposing that the results of the Chisinau meeting be discussed. According to the Russian President, it demonstrated ‘interest of the countries in the development of the CIS as an institution uniting our countries’ (Vladimir Putin’s presidency defined it as an organisation of civilised divorce). The change of rhetoric is interesting, as is the fact that Russian ambassadors to Belarus and Ukraine were invited to attend this Security Council session. Belarus and Ukraine — or to be more correct, presidents Alexander Lukashenko and Victor Yushchenko — were major news makers at the Chisinau summit, voicing reasoned criticism with regard to Moscow and expressing proposals to eliminate the manifestations of the crisis within the CIS.
‘Loans would not have been needed if a zone of free trade were operational’. Alexander Lukashenko called the talks in Chisinau ‘tough and acute’. The President stressed that parties ‘crossed swords’ in discussing joint anti-crisis measures. He noted that, a year ago, governments were ordered to elaborate joint economic measures during the CIS summit in Bishkek. However, a year has passed and nothing has been achieved. “Rumours are afoot that the crisis is approaching its end, yet we are still debating how to monitor and react to the situation,” stated Mr. Lukashenko with regret. He asserted that trade barriers and protectionist measures within the CIS are the most trying problem. “We propose to abolish all barriers and protectionism,” the President told journalists. “Yet we see barriers and protectionism from Russia. When will these problems be settled?”
Mr. Lukashenko also praised Mr. Yushchenko’s ‘killing argument’ at the summit, which noted that neither Belarus nor Ukraine would have needed loans today were a fully-fledged zone of free trade operational within the CIS. The countries would be able to independently earn the money they needed. According to the President, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan applauded the statement.
The theme of loans was also tackled, with Mr. Lukashenko explaining that he had asked the Russian Finance Minister, Alexei Kudrin, how Russia, boasting huge gold-and-currency reserves, might help other CIS members. According to the Belarusian President, a clear answer was not given. The President also noted that, after sharp discussion, summit participants agreed that all CIS states have problems ‘but if they are united they would act in a single key’.
‘We must decide how we can live together’. At the Chisinau summit, the presidents negotiated round a common table and held tкte-а-tкte talks. Mr. Lukashenko had bilateral meetings with Victor Yushchenko and summit host, Moldova’s Parliament Chairman Mihai Ghimpu.
Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova are not only CIS partners — they jointly participate in the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme. Speaking to Mr. Yushchenko, the Belarusian President noted with satisfaction that some bilateral trade agreements are already being implemented. He proposed that he and his Ukrainian colleague meet soon to discuss bilateral trade issues, among others. The two states’ prime ministers need to discuss existing problems in detail, to ‘allow Belarus and Ukraine to advance’.
Regarding the crisis, Mr. Lukashen-ko wished the Ukrainians a ‘better fate’. “Neither our people nor yours deserve what is happening, having not been the initiators of the disorders and problems currently observed worldwide. Yet we are influenced,” said Mr. Lukashenko, speaking to Mr. Yushchenko. “However, at the summit, you were right in saying that we’ll emerge from this crisis and we’ll emerge strong,” he added.
Mr. Yushchenko, in turn, called the Belarusian President a ‘big friend’ of Ukraine and stressed that he is proceeding from a position of Kiev and Minsk having good neighbourly relations. Mr. Yushchenko believes that, in light of today’s complex financial and economic events, Belarus and Ukraine should develop bilateral liaisons.
The development of co-operation, primarily regarding trade and investments, was discussed during Mr. Lukashenko’s meeting with Mihai Ghimpu. The Belarusian President expressed his view that no problems should exist between Minsk and Chisinau. “Our economies are not at loggerheads,” he said, illustrating his idea by saying that Belarus is interested in purchasing Moldovan grapes and wine, since it does not cultivate grapes itself. Meanwhile, the Minsk Tractor Works can increase its export of tractors to Moldova — to satisfy agricultural needs.
Mr. Lukashenko also noted that former problems regarding cargo transportation via Ukraine are being solved. Before meeting Mr. Ghimpu, he debated the issue with the Ukrainian President. “The three of us can solve any problem. If all problems on the agenda are settled then we can considerably advance our relations,” Mr. Lukashenko asserts.
After the summit ended, it became known that Mr. Lukashenko had negotiated also with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. He announced that ‘our countries have no closed topics’ and that ‘Azerbaijan is a friendly state for Belarus’.
The session of the CIS heads of state was a venue for discussion of common themes and problems in multi-sided and bilateral formats. According to Mr. Lukashenko, the CIS should be preserved — at the very least because it is a unique site for post-Soviet space discussion. The President added that no one at the Chisinau summit advocated the cessation of co-operation within the Commonwealth. Rather, ‘everyone agreed that it’s necessary to think of how the CIS states should live together and avoid dissociation’. These words, alongside the Russian authorities’ actions following the summit, make it possible to believe that the CIS’ future is not as dark as it is perceived to be by many politicians and political commentators. The main thing is that a shared future is desired.

By Vitaly Volyanyuk
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