Alexander Lukashenko: ‘We must do everything possible to preserve and strengthen our state — at any cost’
The President of Belarus delivered his annual State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian People and to the National Assembly. Here, we publish part of his speech relating to the country’s foreign policy[/b]The creation of favourable conditions for the state’s dynamic development is linked to efficient foreign economic and foreign political activity. This includes the expansion of exports of goods and services to new markets, the solution of problems dealing with access to raw materials and advanced technologies and the establishment of fruitful co-operation with foreign states, international organisations and global financial-credit institutions. It also envisages the creation of reliable systems for ensuring international and regional security.
The creation of favourable conditions for the state’s dynamic development is linked to efficient foreign economic and foreign political activity. This includes the expansion of exports of goods and services to new markets, the solution of problems dealing with access to raw materials and advanced technologies and the establishment of fruitful co-operation with foreign states, international organisations and global financial-credit institutions. It also envisages the creation of reliable systems for ensuring international and regional security.
The successful solution of these tasks should enable Belarus to remain a truly independent and sovereign state, able to confidently and efficiently promote its interests within the international arena.
The Russian Federation, undoubtedly, was and remains our basic political and economic partner. During the years of building our joint Union State, we’ve tied thousands of threads of industrial co-operation and interpersonal contacts. However, while relying on Union relations, we failed to think of the future. We increased our deliveries of products to a single market, sometimes prejudiced against other partners and relying exclusively on Russian sources of raw materials and energy.
We concluded hundreds of agreements ensuring equal rights for our legal entities and transparent conditions for mutual trade. Those in the Kremlin applauded this process, including the former and present Presidents. As you know, the situation has drastically changed now. The Russian leadership has moved to ‘pragmatism’ in relations with our country — shifting to ‘market’ liaisons. Moreover, rather than applying the latter in a traditional, easily understandable manner, it has ‘invented’ them in a single-sided fashion.
We’ve faced actions which have jeopardised the survival of our state. Near prohibitive fees have been placed on oil and oil products. We are gradually being pushed out of the Russian market and there are attempts to isolate us from European transit routes. Despite all assurances, the Russian Federation is strengthening the customs border at our checkpoints. Under these circumstances, I wish to ask: why are we establishing the Customs Union? Increasing energy prices are affecting the competitiveness of Belarusian manufacturers, primarily, on the Russian market. This is a factor in ‘squeezing out’ our products from the Russian market.
Evidently, this ‘pragmatism’ undermines the basis of the Union State, destroying its economic component. I seek no confrontation with the Russian Federation; this is not my role as President and is the essence of my policy. Everything I have done over the past 15 years, starting from the referendum on the Belarus-Russia Union, has been in support of the Belarusian people. It is not too late. We are not so distant from one another. We have only quarrelled to some extent in words. We can still return to our senses and reinstate the principles on which our Union is based.
It was not us who sidetracked from some agreements which we signed with Russia, such as ‘On Creating Equal Conditions for Legal Entities’. What is the Union State if our companies endure conditions doubly worse than those facing Russian enterprises or if our greenhouse farms, for example, pay three times more for raw hydrocarbons than Russian companies? Are these equal rights within our Union?
However, we have not sidetracked too much. We are ready for co-operation. We are ready to forget everything, to turn a new page (as diplomats say) and return to where we were, guided by our economic, psychological, moral and ethic principles. After all, we are a single nation! This is topical on the 65th anniversary of victory over Fascism.
In those days, we sweated blood and were destroyed as no other country. We were under occupation longer than any other Soviet territory. We were burnt down and demolished completely. It has taken until now to restore our pre-war population. This happened only yesterday. Has this been forgotten?
On losing Belarus, Russia shall definitely lose its attractive status and position. No one will ever believe Russia if it continues treating our people as it does now.
A question hangs in the air: will we be a sovereign and independent state, lived in by proud Belarusians, who deserve this right to be proud? Or will we continue kneeling before others? It is a rhetorical question — addressed to you and to the whole nation. We have a piece of land and our ideology is clear. We have no pretensions over other territories. We pose no problems to anyone — neither to neighbours nor far states. We are ready to live and co-operate as partners with any state. We are the most problem-free nation. We ask you to respect us for this! That we must search for new markets — and we’ve found them already — is because we’ve been placed under certain conditions.
It’s vitally important for us to move from dependence and dictatorship — primarily by Russian monopolies, among others. We need to avoid being kicked and ridiculed for living at someone else’s expense.
Belarusians are civilised, hard-working and strong-spirited people, able to build their lives as they wish, rather than following others’ orders. This is the key of our policy. Everything we are doing today is aimed at the preservation of the real sovereignty of our young state. I’ve always said, and continue saying, that we will not be subsumed. We have initiated integration within the post-Soviet space. We are initiators! However, we have clung to the traditional basis of equal rights.
The complexity of the solution is quite evident. Worldwide, almost no countries exist which are similar to Belarus; we are gradually, absolutely peacefully, defending our right to develop independently. Other countries have already banded together, or have adopted another’s model of behaviour; in fact, they are playing music ordered by someone else.
Under such conditions, special tenacity and bravery are needed to preserve the historical memory of Belaya Rus as a clean and spotless country and to defend its independence. We must do everything possible to preserve and strengthen our state — at any cost. Our long-suffering nation deserves the right to its own land on our planet, so that our children and grandchildren do not reproach us for failing to give them a comfortable piece of land on which to live peacefully.
There is no need to search for any hidden motive in our multi-vector policy. I’ve said this, in this hall, perhaps a dozen times already. These are the dictates of today’s world. If we fail to give prompt and adequate responses to modern challenges, then we’ll remain in others’ backyards as ‘poor relatives’.
Belarusians are hardworking people. Maybe not in Russia but overseas, we earn our living honestly. I’m convinced that Russians understand and support us; we’d never do anything to harm this nation so fraternally close to us. However, it’s impossible to destroy by the derogatory labels which the Russian media and some politicians place on us.
I’m firmly convinced that our potential for economic integration within the post-Soviet space is far from exhausted. One of the most important foreign political results of 2009 was the establishment of the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. We expect its fully-fledged operation to eliminate all barriers to trade between members, inspiring the development of our national economies and the growth of our citizens’ well being. With this in mind, under present conditions, we need to take steps to fill each foreign political vector with concrete content, as we do in our dealings with Venezuela, China, Ukraine, Iran, the EU and other regions.
At the same time, I wish to again admonish those who advise me to head calmly towards civilised Europe. There’s no need to ingratiate ourselves to please European Union and American markets. We should tell them directly why we should be friends: we have economic interests (we speak of this openly) there; they are close to us; and are technologically advanced. This does not prejudice us against the Russian vector. Our people live there, which says all that needs to be said.
You know, we had many good agreements with the Europeans and Americans but power has shifted; there’s now a European Union President. Those with whom I’d previously spoken and with whom we’d made agreements have left office; everyone has forgotten our arrangements. The US Administration staff has changed and everyone has forgotten what they’d promised. I’ve already spoken about this. The Russians have never let us down in this way. Moreover, I’ve never conducted behind-closed-curtains talks.
We should live here! We should receive our wealth here — while co-operating with Europe and America on topics of interest. We should not break up the ties we have with Russia.
In recent years, we’ve managed to advance relations with the European Union to a recognisable new level. Our steady, productive approach has received a response: Europe has understood the hopelessness of its previous attitude towards Belarus. Dictate and pressure have been replaced by open and objective dialogue. We’re pleased that such powerful European countries as Germany, France and Italy are pioneering this sound approach.
I’m glad that the European elite are rejecting false stereotypes about the situation in Belarus. I’m glad that Europe understands that Belarus is an island of stability and security. We’ve never tried to hide our interest in a more vigorous and comprehensive rapprochement with Europe. It’s our second largest trading partner and our key trading partner regarding some commodities. Over the past two years, we’ve had a positive trade balance.
However, we have several serious problems and issues, which have been on hold for a long time. Our nations are looking forward to their resolution. I’m speaking of the issue of easing the visa regime. We’ve welcomed the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative, which aims to facilitate the major involvement of several countries, including Belarus, in sharing common European processes. Our relations within this initiative must be founded on equality, without the imposition of a development model or co-operative format.
This is not the case in the Eastern Partnership’s parliamentary dimension: EuroNest. There, parliamentarians should represent Belarus, since they are elected by our citizens. People won’t understand or support any other decision. The idea of ‘an alternative opposition parliament sitting near our parliamentarians’ will never receive my support. Why are these requirements placed on us alone? Other states are represented there as well. I think these states — partners within the Eastern Partnership — have the same problems as we do, so why is only Belarus singled out? Does anyone wish this? Surely, this will never happen. If we don’t suit the Eastern Partnership, tell us about it and we’ll do without. We haven’t yet received anything from it and it’s unlikely that we ever will. We were invited, being told: ‘Come. We’ll talk and co-operate’. That’s fine. Why should we reject the invitation? You are our neighbours. If we don’t suit you today, then tell us. If we suit you tomorrow, then we’ll wait until tomorrow. We are not insisting…
Belarus is ready for the most sincere talks on all issues of interest to our partners. We guarantee that there will be no closed topics. However, we hope talks will be objective, mutually respectful, sincere and lacking double standards.
Speaking of our relations with the USA, we are preserving our focus on full scale bilateral normalisation — in the interests of both Minsk and Washington. We have enough areas of common interest to develop mutually beneficial co-operation. We offer Barack Obama’s administration — whose first steps have been encouraging — to start liaisons on a wide range of issues. We are keen on constructive co-operation.
Contacts with American representatives, including my meeting with a delegation from the US Congress, are testimony to our mutual interest. However, civilised, truly efficient dialogue is hardly possible when one of the parties is openly pressurised. It’s good that this is understood — primarily, by US businessmen. Top executives of a number of US companies have said this during my recent meetings with them. Nothing frightens or discourages them about our country. We are a force to be reckoned with, as I noted on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit. We were not invited as we had not ‘danced to the pipe’ of the Americans and, surprisingly, of the Russians.
We were asked to give away our highly enriched uranium. I replied: ‘I’m not giving away anything, as it’s not mine to give. It belongs to our people — under IAEA protection’. We’re co-operating with this organisation and we’re hiding nothing. In addition, as far as I understand, Russia has reassured the USA, saying: ‘don’t worry, we’ll take away Belarus’ uranium’. I should say that neither Russia nor anyone else can do that without our consent. We’re ready to embark on negotiations. It’s not about money. We are a nation — a state — and what we own is ours. We aren’t blackmailing anyone and we aren’t going to make atomic bombs. Assuming we had been making them, we’ve already had time to complete the process! However, we don’t need them; we just want a good attitude.
I stress another time — I’m not initiating a battle on every frontline, as some might say, claiming that I’ve quarrelled with Russia, Europe and America. We don’t wish to quarrel with anyone but we won’t part with what belongs to us. We’ll be fighting to the bitter end, defending our people’s property. If you have amicable intentions and need us to share, then we’re ready to give you our last shirt, as Russians do. However, this is only possible if we can all be honest and decent. No other scenario is admissible.
Some may start saying: ‘Events in Kyrgyzstan are a warning, including to Belarus’. This is really funny. Neither the Government, nor the Presidential Administration, nor any of my residences have fences. Haven’t you noticed? It’s symbolic. It shows we aren’t expecting any ‘coloured revolution’. We’re also unafraid of anyone destroying state buildings; if they dared to try, there’d be hell to pay.
Long-term co-operation with Ukraine meets Belarus’ strategic interests. Our similar geopolitical situation and economic structure makes this country our natural ally on a range of sensitive issues. This is why it’s necessary to quickly build a system of deep, multi-sided co-operation with our southern neighbour, founded on agreements achieved during our recent top level meetings. I’m convinced that, if we speak in unison, those in the West and the East will listen to our single opinion.
Another priority for our country is the further development of political and foreign trade ties with such countries as Poland and the Baltic States. We have much in common and more problems — which need solution — lie ahead. Multi-sided co-operation with Asia, Africa and Latin America is a principally new avenue of Belarus’ foreign policy. Many countries are keen on collaborating with us. Let’s speak openly. They well understand that we are the only civilised country not ‘dancing to someone’s pipe’ or grovelling at another’s feet. Meanwhile, we understand that it’s very difficult to exist as an ‘island’. We still need to communicate, making friends and those we can rely upon. This is our proposal to strong partners. Why should we move away from China? On becoming president, I learnt a great deal from China. It’s been beneficial for us.
China is moving into a global lead and is stretching a hand to help us. Honestly, if the Russians are giving us the run around regarding a nuclear power plant, we’ll address China, where dozens are being built; it’s even starting construction abroad. They’ll build a nuclear power station for us. Sooner or later, we’ll build it — although there are some who won’t like it!
We shouldn’t turn away from states which wish to co-operate with a civilised central European country. There are many of them.
I think it’s high time we looked at Japan. It’s a powerful state and, in many avenues, we have the basis for collaboration. Let’s expand this collaboration. Moreover, it’s the second largest economy in the world. Why should we reject two or three directions of co-operation with Japan? ‘Many a little makes a mickle’ is our policy. It’s wrong to say that we’re making Africa and Latin America our frontline; we’re simply diversifying our foreign policy, trade, exports and, eventually, our products. It’s a classical attitude.