Communication in format of sincere dialogue
Alexander Lukashenko holds press conference for representatives of Russian regional mass media during their traditional tour of Belarus
On the situation in Ukraine
Let’s look at this situation in detail; I think it’s vital. Not everyone in Russia understands the position of Belarus and my personal position regarding the Ukrainian issue, which concerns me greatly. I may repeat myself at times, so please excuse me. However, I want to be very clear.
I’ve been able to find a common language with Ukraine’s leaders: not only with Kuchma and Yanukovych, but with Yushchenko, Timoshenko, Turchinov and Petro Poroshenko. I’ve always supported contact with these leaders, despite being critical of their position where it did not coincide with our own, or with my understanding of processes.
They never took offence at me, being aware of my openness and sincerity, rather than any malicious intent. The same is true now; I enjoy friendly relations with the leading politicians in Ukraine.
I can only ask Russia why it doesn’t welcome my contact with Ukraine. Is it damaging Belarus or Russia? What’s wrong? Recent events in Ukraine have proven that there’s nothing wrong about this.
I think we need to perceive the situation in Ukrainian politics calmly. We know that they have always experienced turmoil on the eve of elections, especially those for parliament. What they say tomorrow may not be what they say today.
I understand what’s happening today in Ukraine and I will continue supporting contact.
An anti-constitutional coup took place in Ukraine; you remember the events in Maidan? The shooting? Who is to blame? The President of Ukraine, Mr. Yanukovych. He was, formerly, my good friend, although I can’t say who he is to me now: friend or enemy, since I haven’t met him recently. He alone is to blame. He stated that the acquisition of power is never worth the loss of human life and spent blood. How many lives have been lost? Thousands? No one knows the exact figure.
I repeat that the events in Maidan and afterwards were a non-constitutional coup. When I first met Alexander Turchinov (then acting Ukrainian President before Poroshenko), I honestly told him that it was a non-constitutional coup: an assumption of power. It was my understanding and that of Russia. This continues to be my position.
We face an important issue regarding the events in Ukraine: the annexation of Crimea. Annexation from the point of view of Russia: seizure from the point of view of Ukraine. Let’s discuss this topic and I’ll show you how steady my views are.
In 1994, Budapest hosted a conference, including the Americans and Russians, headed by Clinton and Yeltsin, to discuss nuclear weapons. It was agreed, at their insistence, that our nuclear weaponry (the most contemporary nuclear-capable ‘Topol’ missiles you see in Russia) were moved back into the territory of the Russian Federation. At that time, our ‘conscious’ nationalists, who were in power, were eager to please the Americans and agreed to this. I, de facto, must fulfil the obligations taken at that time regarding the removal of nuclear weapons. I have been very much against this but it has been necessary to fulfil those international obligations signed before my presidency.
Clinton, Yeltsin and a UK representative guaranteed us complete security if we removed our nuclear weapons. I underline that we all remain as independent states within the framework of the borders which existed during that period. Inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity of the state was guaranteed to us in 1994, with my participation. Therefore, it’s inadmissible for a state to violate this guaranteed territorial integrity, taking part of another state’s territory. In honestly, it’s wrong to say that a state has taken a part of another country’s territory but I’m yet to discuss nuances.
Don’t think that I’m afraid — as some people in Russia say and, particularly, our opposition; our nationalists try to scare me with the notion that Russia my take Belarus tomorrow, as it has taken Ukraine today, and could take Kazakhstan the day after tomorrow or contrariwise. It’s complete nonsense. We never entertain such scenarios at a political level. I cannot imagine Russia annexing any part of Belarus. It’s utter rubbish! Such things won’t happen.
If we consider this problem clearly, no one will argue with me.
Another question is why Russia has taken this step and who is to blame. I told Ukraine and all journalists, after Poroshenko’s inauguration, (they surrounded me there): ‘Do you think that Crimea is yours? If so, why didn’t you fight for it? Why did you give it to Russia without a single shot? This means you don’t consider it to be your territory’.
Secondly, why did you point the tip of your revolution at our people (Russians and Russian-speaking Belarusians)? Why did you start banning the language? Didn’t you have any other problems? You began to threaten the lives of these people.
Thirdly, did you want to deploy NATO units in Crimea? You know our stance, so look for a reason at home, not in Russia.
You at least gave rise to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. You are to blame, not Russia. Why did you expose yourself if you knew what would happen? If you hadn’t given a reason, this wouldn’t have happened.
So, when I evaluate the situation in Crimea, I proceed from these points. I omit what will happen next as, despite being important, all is not clear. It’s a complex situation.
The situation in Crimea may become even more complicated, since the peninsula’s traditional communication and supply channels have been disrupted. The problem will only become worse over the coming winter. Of course, Russia has great resources and will do its best to provide for Crimea, although it will be a heavy burden. This should be taken into account when some say that Russia would like to take over Eastern Ukraine too; I don’t believe this.
Russia, as I know for sure, understands perfectly well that taking over a territory is not difficult, since Ukraine has almost no army. What’s important is what happens afterwards and how the situation will play out as a whole.
This is my position regarding the territorial integrity of states; it’s how I assess this and how it really happened. I have my opinion on whom is to blame and what responsibility is held by Russia.
The trouble is that certain politicians and media representatives in Russia ‘pick out’ only the first or the second part of my opinion, rather than assessing the whole.
As far as the massacre in the south-east of Ukraine is concerned, let’s not be obscure; were it not for Russia, the days of the LNR and the DNR would have been numbered. I believe that Russia is obliged to protect and support these territories, for a variety of reasons: not only for its personal reputation but to uphold the sacred bond of brotherhood, coming to the aid of those in trouble. Russia cannot abandon them. There is a whole range of reasons but I won’t go into detail here.
However, one thing is clear, as I stated to a narrow circle of fellow presidents before the conflict began: ‘We shouldn’t start a war under any circumstances! Not for any reason! In this way, we’ll help particular players within the international arena or in particular states. We’ll assist them greatly in doing so. No one, except Russia, will be fighting, since the other global players won’t openly engage in conflict — for example, America won’t ever clash directly. However, some states and blocs will be very interested in our killing each other’.
I repeat that a global crater is forming at the centre of Europe. It has the capacity to swallow us and embroil us in this massacre — this war. In this way, we’d kill each other. The Slavs would destroy each other, almost for the first time in history. We, civilised and literate people, would kill each other.
They did not listen to me back then and see what has happened.
We’ve studied this situation attentively. I underline that we received proposals from various sides, asking for Minsk to host talks on this issue. I was pleased, telling Putin, Poroshenko, Europe and others to ‘only tell me what to do’ and I would do it. We consulted long, and I clearly understood what I should do. We gathered here, at the centre of Europe, to discuss the issue.
A contact group was established and it worked for a long time in Minsk. I did everything to support its work. If assistance was needed I met and helped. We did this confidentially and didn’t tell anyone but I promoted this. This is the only merit which can be laid at Belarus’ door: we gave the opportunity for conversation. Tell me, would it be possible for this event to happen in Minsk If I took some other position, different from what I’ve explained to you? Of course not!
Dialogue couldn’t have taken place otherwise; the Europeans would have come to us saying that ‘European issues should be solved in Europe’. Objectively, we need to thank Europe for agreeing to meet and discuss issues — for allowing a contact group in the country of ‘Europe’s last dictator’. The benefits are already evident regarding negotiations made within the contact group in Minsk.
They will deal with any skirmishes. Our observers are working there, from the OSCE, Russia and our people from Ukraine: they see that the peace process has begun. Why? Because there cannot be winners in this war. Ukraine and Russia, as well as the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, understand this. Everyone understands — so why do skirmishes continue? If it were not for parliamentary elections, the process would proceed faster. However, there are some ‘war parties’ of villainous politicians (we cannot call them otherwise). Some want to keep face while others need to prove something. It means that this political aspect — the elections — is greatly influencing the current state of affairs. However, we are at least past the stage of whole brigades being surrounded and hundreds of people being killed during operations, which is good.
This is what has happened in Ukraine and this is our position.
On integration associations
The EurAsEC no longer exists. Rather, we now have the Single Economic Space (which is actually the Eurasian Economic Union). When this process launched, many wondered whether we really needed the Union State. I warned them not to hurry, as the process was not urgent and that we might liquidate the Union State (as required) when the Customs Union or the present Eurasian Union had achieved the same level of integration as our Union regarding bilateral relations.
In fact, we’ve achieved not even half of this, sharing a purely economic union, while the Union State envisages uniting our two foreign ministries under shared policy, while giving our Russian and Belarusian citizens equal rights and a shared defence space. We’ve created a single army, comprising the Belarusian army and detachments from the Moscow Military District. Heaven forbid that conflict would take place in Belarus but, in this case, our army would react promptly — in line with plans. In such a situation, an entire schedule is envisaged, including Russian detachments. The Eurasian Union lacks these aspects.
It’s not our fault that our nations are displeased with the level of Union State realisation. The key issue is that we were obliged to put the Constitution of the future Union State to a referendum in Russia and Belarus; Russia and its Russian leaders have failed to realise this. We have proposed the introduction of a single currency but can you explain what this currency is to be and why it’s needed? We agreed to launch a single currency but it must be an independent single currency. It doesn’t matter what it’s called; its emission centre must operate in equal rights — but not in the way the media have declared it: ‘Lukashenko proposes equal-rights conditions — calculating everything and then halving’. We haven’t ever insisted on this. Equal rights envisage solving issues to serve the interests of Russians and Belarusians. Speaking of a currency, its emission centre should be independent of both Russia and Belarus. However, we were told that ‘the emission centre will be placed in Russia’. What kind of independence is this?
If we are building a union, we must follow the major principle of equal rights! The Russians have failed to do so.
No referendum has been held and no major fundamentals of our future integration regarding the Union State have been created. No union state, confederation or federation can exist without a constitution. If it’s not allowed, then let’s liaise on a bilateral basis. We began making decisions in the fields of education, health protection, free population movement and defence, evolving gradually.
As a result, the Union State operates but people in Russia and Belarus are not satisfied, believing that it must develop more quickly, efficiently and, importantly, more visibly. People want to see noticeable benefits.
On relations with the West
The West has never liked Lukashenko and won’t change. I understand that the West doesn’t need those such as me, as I’m straightforward and sincere. They say that ‘politics is a dirty business’ but I quite disagree, and would like to show that it’s not dirty at all; politics can be clean, handled with clean hands. I stand for the independence of our state.
We stand at the centre of Europe. Ukraine is destroyed and it’s now impossible for the East and West to communicate there. No roads exist further to the north, leaving a ‘corridor’ of approximately 1,000km for economic collaboration between the East and West.
Western politicians have been here and seen all, since we don’t hide anything. Even our enemies have been here, with just two individuals banned from attending the Ice Hockey World Championship (because they have humiliated our nation). Everyone else arrived. This was my position — to allow everyone to come, even our enemies, to let them see our country. This generated the effect I sought, as they saw that this is a normal state.
Ukrainian events followed and it has been the impulse required to enable sober-minded people in the West to make overtures towards Belarus. Our position regarding Ukraine has inspired this impulse, encouraging those who are sensible in the West and the USA, primarily business representatives, to begin talking.
It’s not because they don’t view me as a dictator. They do and continue to do so, although they don’t speak openly about this. This isn’t because they now like Lukashenko or the Belarusian nation. They hated us yesterday and continue to hate, but now feel uncomfortable saying such things openly, so some movement is evident.
We, alongside events worldwide, have turned in such a way that it’s no longer seen as decent to ‘wipe boots’ on Belarus; no one will understand this, even in the West. That’s all but not because we have changed or altered our policy. I’ve always said that, if we need to stand back-to-back with the Russians, or with Putin, we’ll do so. We won’t even think about whether it’s a mistake since, as I tell those in the West: ‘You, Europeans, knew and understood well your intentions in Iraq, knowing well that there weren’t any nuclear weapons there. You knew that America needed to destroy the country and then hang the incumbent president. You knew this! Why did you support America then?
Because you are allies — as we are with Russia; we’ll scrupulously observe our agreements’.
That’s all. This is our position. However, we have our own point of view, which can sometimes differ from that of Russia, as we voice on occasion. Nevertheless, we’re strategic partners and allies; we’re brothers and we can’t allow our brother to suffer while we take a detached view.
On high technologies
It’s high time that we produce our own planes and helicopters, co-operating with other nations; no single country manufactures planes alone. In Belarus, we’ve created our own artificial satellite: now in orbit thanks to a Russian rocket carrier. We are now a space state: part of a space club. It’s vital that we create our own satellites, since this is an indicator of the highest technological level.
Regarding the construction of the nuclear power station, it has been difficult to persuade people to agree in this, our ‘post-Chernobyl’ country. However, during the pre-election campaign, I chose to advocate the building our own nuclear power station. The high technologies involved in this sphere raise our enterprises, including machine building companies, to the highest level. A high level is essential and raises the development of our economy.
We must use the most advanced technologies, because we have an open economy. We consume 25-30 percent of our manufactures, exporting 70-75 (up to 80) percent. We have an open economy and we must follow the strictest modernisation. We can borrow anything but, to survive, we need to modernise, improving production. This is the essence; the whole country is involved in growth.
On NATO expansion
NATO is expanding closer to the Belarusian border, which cannot but worry us. Why have I been called ‘a European dictator’? Why has Europe grown to hate me? I was once accepted in France, Germany and the USA, meeting with their officials and taking part in forums. However, around two years after becoming President, they began calling me a dictator.
About 17 years ago, I delivered a speech on the Soviet Army and Navy Day; February the 23rd is still our holiday (just look at our calendar) — which means much. Speaking of prospects then (as I understood the situation) I stated that NATO’s expansion eastwards was perilous and unacceptable to us. You may read that speech. At the time, Russia was playing with the West, ready to fall under it: quite different times.
I clearly and openly voiced my position, saying that the Treaty of Warsaw had seen us give back Eastern Germany freely. We marched out our Armed Forces, destroying many nuclear weapons and moving nuclear tactical weapons from Europe’s firing line — under the guarantee that you’d never expand to East. However, you have begun moving to eastwards and this worries us twice as much as it does the Russians — as you are expanding towards our borders. This issue is a red line in our modern policy, as observed during the Ukrainian conflict, where I uphold our unambiguous position.
When this Bacchanalia was active, we many times reacted to NATO’s behaviour in Europe adequately. As Head of State, I can’t but feel concerned by any action near our borders.
Despite openly discussing NATO and other aspects, I have no desire to go to war with anyone. We are attempting to agree with Europe and convince it that we are not aggressors and would never fight. There’s no need to conduct offensive action or launch an information war against us.
On 70th anniversary of Victory
I’d imagine that everything undertaken in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary will also be undertaken in our country, starting with a military parade, as is traditional in Belarus. The most important thing — the hardest and the most significant - is to visit each monument.
Those who took part in the Great Patriotic War now live in apartments; none are without a home, as the question was dealt with long ago. Unfortunately, many have already died; just about 30,000 remain and more die each year although, as Commander-in-Chief, I’ve ‘ordered’ them to cling on to life. When we meet and I remind them, they say: ‘We remember, comrade Commander-in-Сhief — to live!’ I see familiar faces and congratulate them, feeling great sadness when it’s time for them to leave us.
When the last war participant dies, a void will be left which will be very difficult to fill. I believe it’s vital for us to visit each monument. I know that they are maintained well, although some are modest and hand-made. We take care of all, whatever their size. It’s important that local people, and children, do their part, since it reminds us of the significance of that war and sacrifices made.
In building the Museum of Great Patriotic War History we had this in mind, wishing for no one to ever forget the Victory and the price we paid for rescuing mankind from Fascism. This is to the greatest merit of our people; the young should always remember. We have managed to stir our younger generation with parades and marches, gathering nearly half a million at such events, which are held in the centre of the city, opposite the Great Patriotic War Museum. Moreover, a great many people spectate.
The main difference between your parade on Red Square and ours is that, although yours is beautiful, just 2-3 thousand people attend. In our country, this huge space is filled with people: 600,000 last year, counting children. Young people remember it and are proud. The Great Patriotic War Museum was built at my insistence, although such themes are less than fashionable nowadays.
Some wish to ‘take away’ our Victory. I’ve said before that a time may come when we’ll be accused of starting that bloody war (in fact, that time may already have come). I said this nearly 15-17 years ago: that our Victory would be taken away if we failed to protect it. Thank God, Russia understands that this is part of our heritage and that no one should be afraid to uphold those memories. You have restored parades and broadcast them widely, on television, but we must see every village and settlement taking part. It’s vital.
On the future election campaign
The President has a special connection with people, which I don’t need to explain. People tend to judge your actions immediately, either understanding or rejecting. Such leaders have a special, invisible quality, with which they are born. Many such people exist in the world and, when elected, they always receive support and forgiveness. I’m not talking about myself; I merely tell you my reflections. I believe that it’s impossible to become a strong and ‘normal’ president without having humanity. You cannot be a ‘real’ president without this. Some say presidents are not born but made.
You may study a great deal but if your parents fail to bring you up with certain values, you may never have the skill of being able to communicate well with others, influencing and persuading them and making them trust you, even when you deliver unpopular news. It’s important to speak honestly since people will soon realise if you speak only to gain popularity, or to hide something. I try to follow such principles.
If there were to be elections tomorrow, I would tell you that I plan to stand. In fact, we have almost a year before our elections and who knows what will happen before then. I announced three days ago that I’d been nominated and can choose to hold elections no earlier than March 2015, under the Constitution. However, I plan them for October-November, when people will be ready. Suddenly, I enjoyed great support: almost 90 percent. Looking West, or to Russia, nobody will be able to say that I’ve misled them. Elections will be held after five years; to adapt this in order to stay in power would violate the Constitution. Why would I do that, knowing that people would remember and our opponents criticise me. What purpose would it serve?
Some criticise me for events in Ukraine, with the opposition saying that I acted only to make myself popular. What are they thinking, talking of popularity while people perish! What popularity, what peace-making, what mediation? We must think of children and the elderly who are dying there.
While such people look at the situation in terms of popularity, they may say that I’m no longer the ‘last dictator’ — but Putin. Your media has also written such comments. Don’t think in this way, since it’s simply not true. I speak from my heart.