Message for our descendants
Four years ago, the fate of one small, quiet settlement in the north of the Grodno Region changed drastically, being chosen for the site of Belarus’ first nuclear power station. Of 72 sites initially considered, it met all the criteria recommended by the IAEA. Ostrovets was visited by Alexander Lukashenko last week for the first time.
By Lilia Khlystun
The Presidential helicopter landed near the construction site, to the rumble of vehicles in the distance. Perhaps the most ambitious and largest-scale project within the Republic to date, the impressive site covers 200 hectares. A whole town of engineers is being housed near the reactors and corresponding infrastructure is required: homes, schools and kindergartens, sports facilities and shops. The population of Ostrovets will increase from 8,500 to 35,000 people, ready to operate the first reactor (of two) by mid-2018. Land has significantly risen in price in Ostrovets since the launch of the construction of the nuclear power station, with prices rivalling those in the regional centre. Investors are keen to buy land on which to build retail sites and to develop services.
From the first minutes, Mr. Lukashenko spoke in a business-like manner. Nothing, even the surface of the landing site, escaped his gaze. Addressing Belarus’ First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Semashko, he noted, “It’s right that you’re laying concrete slabs rather than asphalt. Later, these can be removed and used elsewhere. We should also think of ways to reduce the cost of construction.”
According to preliminary assessments, the Belarusian power station will cost $9.7bn, but should pay for itself within 18.5 years, with a life of 60 years. Clearly, it is economically beneficial. Moreover, its use will reduce consumption of imported natural gas (bought with foreign currency) by 5-7bn cubic metres. The cost of generated electricity will also fall significantly and greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7-10m tonnes annually. Of course, the country’s image will be enhanced by its launch of nuclear power engineering, bringing further impetus to the economy.
Russian Atomstroyexport JSC is constructing the Belarusian nuclear power station but over a dozen Belarusian design and construction organisations have been involved, responsible for 50 percent of the station; such collaboration may be useful to both sides.
Examining the foundation pit, from which earth is now being removed, the President told the Russian experts, “It’s good that you so appreciate Belarusian specialists. Attract them into the high-tech sphere and into the construction of nuclear power stations in Russia and abroad. We can work together and be useful to each other.”
According to Mr. Lukashenko, the development of space technologies and the construction of a nuclear power station should inspire wider economic growth. The President initiated the development of these spheres in Belarus, with the wisdom of his choices now being proven. The country has launched its own satellite and a major enterprise to manufacture innovative technology is now operational.
The President solemnly laid a capsule bearing a message to future generations, near the administrative and amenity building. Local residents then had the chance to chat with Mr. Lukashenko and, remarkably, expressed only gratitude that their small town has been chosen for the project, since new housing, new jobs and worthy salaries are the result.
Certainly, the Ostrovets District is developing quite rapidly, as mentioned by the Chairman of the Grodno Regional Executive Committee, Semen Shapiro, who reported on local socio-economic development. Currently, the district harvests 45 centners of grain per hectare and is constructing new farms, while increasing numbers of livestock. The whole region is working hard. Mr. Shapiro promised the President, “We’ll harvest 2,080,000 tonnes of grain and the Minsk Region will bring in 2,900,000 tonnes.” Between them, the two regions will ensure 5m tonnes of grain for the Republic: a serious breakthrough. The whole of Belarus once only harvested 4,600,000 tonnes, proving progress through effort and the use of new technologies.
On finishing his tour of the site, the President spoke to journalists on the following topics:
If we had no debt, our economy would be developing even more rapidly. We can certainly meet our repayment obligations. If we lacked sufficient funds we wouldn’t raise salaries. However, the Government has been charged with earning money for the country’s development, for people’s salaries and to repay our modest loans — including interest. At present, it’s no problem to repay a couple of billion (US Dollars), as we already have this money without needing to use our gold and currency reserves.
Gomselmash and Rostselmash holding
If Russia allows us to buy this redundant plant, we’ll be delighted, converting it into a holding company to produce various fodder harvesting and beetroot-lifting machines, as well as flax and grain harvesters. We have everything we need to do so and are keen to enter this huge sales market. Moreover, if this becomes a Russian company, it won’t have any problems at all.
Russia’s WTO membership
Russia’s accession to the WTO will not go unnoticed by our producers and the economy. We’ll have to work even harder and at lower costs.
Parliamentary elections and opposition
If our opposition truly felt able to win, they wouldn’t say that the elections are illegitimate.
I’ve directly told officials and others involved in the parliamentary elections to avoid doing anything which might arouse suspicion or give reason to talk about our parliament being illegitimate. We are determined to conduct fair elections.
The Swedish Embassy and ‘teddy bears’
The Swedish Ambassador has been working in Belarus for seven years, although the usual practice is three years. The question of whether to prolong the ambassador’s accreditation is decided on both sides. We’ve agreed with the Swedish side that they’ll send a new ambassador. In fact, he didn’t leave the country straight away but stayed here (illegally) for several months, to stir up scandal. Meanwhile, Sweden expelled our ambassador and our diplomats.
I instructed the Foreign Ministry to deal with the issue, handling the conflict calmly if it could, but was told that there was no opportunity to do this peacefully. I then instructed that embassy staff withdraw. If needed Belarus may locate it in such countries as Finland, Norway and others. We are open to co-operation and are ready to welcome the Swedes back anytime they are ready to resume co-operation, while returning ourselves to Sweden.
Is this problem connected with the ‘teddy bear’ incident? They are utterly unrelated and mere coincidence. However, Sweden and Lithuania should be held accountable for their actions in accordance with international law. Should they not respond in a manner prescribed by international law, we’ll respond as we see fit. Lithuania should let us know why it allowed its territory to be used for the violation of the state border of another country.