Negotiations offer chance for favourable result

The capital’s Independence Palace hosted the landmark meeting of Customs Union presidents

Eyes of entire planet riveted on Minsk as presidents meet
By Vasily Kharitonov

Eyes of entire planet riveted on Minsk as presidents meet

The capital’s Independence Palace hosted the landmark meeting of Customs Union presidents, as well as that of Ukraine and top representatives from the European Union. The situation in Ukraine headed the agenda, with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko opening the meeting by declaring that no intermediaries would be present and that everyone in attendance was eager to see the situation at the centre of Europe be resolved.

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The President of Belarus called on all present at the Minsk talks to put aside political ambitions, focusing only on the fates of people. He asserted, “Armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues, with innocent civilians dying. The economic infrastructure of this rich and previously flourishing country is being destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are being forced to flee their native land, and the entire region is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. These are not old photos from history but today’s reality. Can we remain indifferent to these ongoing events? Certainly, we cannot!”

Mr. Lukashenko recalled preceding events, including his conversation with the Ukrainian President; during his inauguration day, Petro Poroshenko asked that the Customs Union refrain from passing sanctions against Ukraine in response to its signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union. Mr. Poroshenko asked Mr. Lukashenko to notify the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan regarding this matter and suggested meeting to discuss all issues. Mr. Lukashenko emphasised, “I fulfilled his request, informing my presidential counterparts about the conversation and its content. The presidents were unanimous in their desire to meet in Minsk and invite all interested to take part.” Mr. Lukashenko pointed out that, prior to the meeting, more than one round of consultations involving heads of state and experts was organised, including consultations with high-ranking EU officials.

The President of Belarus is confident that no one present in the hall was intent on profiting from the situation, which would be abominable. He stressed, “Our nations have entrusted us, presidents, with their destinies. What should we do in response to this trust? Are we to leave smoking ruins and razed homes in place of smoking factory chimneys? Are we to doom our people to tears and suffering? It seems to me that we’ve had enough suffering in the past. If we are to be considered responsible politicians, we should recognise the full weight of responsibility before our nations. We should forfeit political ambitions, and seek no dividends, rather thinking about the destinies of common people: the elderly, and children who cry and suffer. Think about those who have died.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the crisis in Ukraine cannot be resolved by force. “We’re ready to exchange views on the current situation in Ukraine which, I’m sure, cannot be resolved by further escalating force without damaging the essential interests of the south-eastern regions of the country.”

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At the meeting in Minsk


Mr. Putin viewed the format of the negotiations involving the Customs Union, Ukraine and high-ranking EU officials as a good opportunity to discuss the consequences of Ukraine’s association with the EU and further co-operation with the Eurasian ‘troika’. He noted, “Russia respects and will continue to respect the sovereign choice of any nation and any country in the organisation of its own political life and in the organisation of unions — military or economic. We hope that this won’t be to the detriment of other participants of international communication or at our expense.”

Mr. Putin underlined that Ukraine is closely integrated into the CIS economic space and, alongside Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, forms an indispensable part of the world’s largest single economic complex. Companies of these countries have established close co-operative ties across basic industries.

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko noted his hope that the first meeting in Minsk would allow agreement on establishment peace across Ukrainian lands. He stated, “I sincerely hope that today’s meeting (I think more will follow) will result in peace, and that we will succeed in attaining an agreement which will bring peace to Ukrainian lands. I believe this will be a landmark event in bilateral relations.” He added, “It’s no accident that Belarus is hosting this event and I’m delighted that Minsk has become the centre of these negotiations. This stresses the importance of Belarus.”

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed the joint elaboration of an anti-crisis plan to save the Ukrainian economy and noted his belief that a special international headquarters should be launched, or a fund to support Ukraine’s economy — to overcome the catastrophic situation.

Mr. Nazarbayev also expressed his opinion that the international community should facilitate a positive outcome for negotiations between Ukraine and Russia regarding gas supplies: vital on the eve of winter. He was rather critical regarding the ‘toughening of the exchange of sanctions, which are bringing everyone into deadlock’. He underlined, “The economic potential of our countries is weakened through mutual sanctions, with ordinary people suffering and social tension rising. This could bring a new world crisis, with Europe, Asia and the whole continent suffering.”

The EU’s Head of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Deputy President of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, noted the important role of Belarus in organising the Minsk meeting, aiming to settle the situation in Ukraine. She arrived as part of the EU mission, alongside the European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, and the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht.

Ms. Ashton emphasised her thanks for the initiative in conducting the meeting, stating, “This is an important event, focusing on events in Ukraine. It’s vital that heads of countries across the region are involved in this dialogue. Our position is clear: we support the choice of Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation’s path.” She added her view that Ukraine needs good relations with its neighbours, including EU states, and expressed her hope that the meeting would help solve the challenges faced by Ukraine.

Before the summit, Mr. Lukashenko held bilateral negotiations with Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and with Ms. Ashton.

Press centre opinions:

Press-centre-opinions.pngAs the world’s eyes were cast upon events in Minsk, journalists had the unique chance to make personal observations. Of nearly 200 journalists, half were centred in the Palace of Independence and its press centre. The complexity of the dialogue was obvious, allowing for a range of interpretations.

One colleague from an authoritative and respected news agency stated rather trivially: ‘There are two halls of journalists inside the press centre but only one is equipped with computers, which is inexplicable’. She also noted frivolously: ‘The coffee break for journalists in the press centre foyer included juices (berry among them), white and red wine, and cognac!’ In fact, the alcohol was discreetly placed (although there were no abstainers present); my colleague and I only learnt about the alcohol from this message.

More serious observations included the realisation that there were no official representatives from the USA at the summit, despite the United States playing an important role in Maidan events. For some reason, they now prefer to observe the process from outside. Even the presence of top EU representatives did not fill the obvious gap. Only the figure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was clear behind Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, whose instructions were, seemingly, voiced during negotiations by the serious European Commissioner.

Undoubtedly, this is a more than acceptable variant for the development of Belarus’ relations with Western European countries but in the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis remains doubtful. This may explain why the absence of simultaneous interpretation during Ms. Ashton’s speech was perceived by most of journalists with indifference. In contrast, the words spoken by the presidents of the Customs ‘troika’ and Ukraine received full attention and genuine interest. Clearly, the meeting was necessary.
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