On friendly banks of the River Dnieper
[/b]Belarus and Ukraine are connected not only by a common border stretching over 1,000km and by the immense River Dnieper, but by their common historical values, upon which generations have been raised. Today, a new angle of bilateral economic collaboration is emerging. The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Kiev, Valentin Velichko, has been honoured with an international award of the Supreme Academic Council of Ukraine’s Person of the Year-2009 national programme. He has made a considerable contribution to developing friendly and economic ties with Ukraine [/b]over the years of our independence, we’ve managed not only to retain, but also to strengthen and expand Belarusian-Ukrainian contacts at all levels. Can the experience be of help to ensure further integration within the Post-Soviet community? The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Ukraine Valentin Velichko answered questions asked by Nina Romanova, the observer of Belarus magazine.
over the years of our independence, we’ve managed not only to retain, but also to strengthen and expand Belarusian-Ukrainian contacts at all levels. Can the experience be of help to ensure further integration within the Post-Soviet community? The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Ukraine Valentin Velichko answered questions asked by Nina Romanova, the observer of Belarus magazine.
Mr. Velichko, you represent Belarus’ interests in the state about which Alexander Lukashenko said: ‘Ukraine is not only our kind and reliable neighbour, but a fraternal country. I ask all state administration bodies to build on our relations, proceeding from this’. How are you following this instruction and does our fraternity help us defend our national interests or does it hamper pragmatism?
The Head of State recently confirmed this position in his Annual State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian People and the National Assembly, saying that ‘strengthening of co-operation with Ukraine and other partners in various directions shall remain a priority’. I should note here that our many-sided co-operation with Ukrainian partners remains active, characterised by a long-term, sustainable trend for further development.
Of course, my task as Ambassador is to defend the national interests of my country in every possible way. The fact that the Belarusian Ambassador has been the Dean of the diplomatic corps in Ukraine for two years now also indicates that we are coping with the task quite well. Without any false modesty, I can assume that the honour of being awarded the Supreme Academic Council of Ukraine’s Person of the Year-2009 award for my considerable contribution to developing friendly and economic ties with Ukraine is an indicator of their satisfaction with the work being done.
No doubt, pragmatism lies at the heart of any state’s foreign policy. However, we tend to focus on mutual interest. Evidently, imposing of interest in one direction lacks efficiency. We share common geopolitical interests with Ukraine, as well as having similar economic interests and a shared mentality, history and culture. These all contribute to the development of Belarusian-Ukrainian relations.
Despite close interrelations between our nations, our states have chosen different geopolitical vectors. Ukraine focuses on European Union integration, while Belarus is uniting with Russia and Kazakhstan within the Customs Union. Many analysts consider that our Customs Union is incomplete without Ukraine. What is your opinion of the ‘3+1’ formula, upon which President Viktor Yanukovych proposes building co-operation between Ukraine and the Customs Union? Is this a final compromise or the first step towards even greater rapprochement?
In connection with the initiation of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, the issue of Ukraine’s possible joining has been discussed at various levels, with all possible positive and negative consequences for the Ukrainian economy studied. Unlike other Customs Union members, it is a WTO member.
It’s worth mentioning that thorough research preceded the Customs Union’s formation, looking at the legislation of our three states, the establishment of the Single Customs Tariff, the application of unified non-tariff regulations and other rules governing cargo transportation across the Customs Union border (and between its members). This has been a prerequisite for lifting inner barriers to mutual trade, while shifting full control over the external border of the Customs Union.
Unifying our foreign trade activity has required change to each state’s national legislation, alongside the elaboration of an extensive normative legal base for the Customs Union. Work still continues, as we should remember on discussing prospects for Ukraine’s joining of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. After the USSR’s collapse, the former republics independently built customs, currency and tax legislation, proceeding from their own interests. The establishment of any integrated association — especially for states so closely situated — presupposes compromise of interests. However, integration also envisages mutual benefits.
Each country has the right to independently assess the advantages and disadvantages of joining any union. That other states are interested in joining the Customs Union indicates the efficiency of its operation.
At present, a free trade regime is operational regarding Belarus-Ukraine trade-economic relations, as stipulated by several international agreements — both bilateral and those within the CIS. I believe that our future trade-economic collaboration will continue to develop.
Recently, Russian PM Vladimir Putin gave a clear invitation to Ukraine to join the Customs Union, offering privileged gas prices and other preferences. Is this a profitable proposal for Ukraine and what level of co-operation is enjoyed by Ukrainian enterprises with those of Belarus and Russia? How would our economies benefit for the Customs Union?
Since July 2010, the Customs Union’s Customs Code has been operational; a fully-fledged Customs Union is already established, with some temporary exemptions. Belarus enjoys several major advantages within the Customs Union: the shift of all forms of control from the Belarusian-Russian border to the external border; the unification of sanitary, veterinary and phyto-sanitary measures; the abolishment of import customs duties in mutual trade (aiding exports); and the abolishment of the existing rules whereby country of origin of goods must be specified. It’s also of great importance that customs clearance for goods and transport vehicles is now unified. All these aspects ensure free movement of goods within our single customs territory, promoting the attraction of foreign investments.
The Customs Union (and the Single Economic Space in the future) is a strong form of integration, creating better conditions for the interaction of member states’ companies. The simpler the conditions of trade, the greater the possibility that firm trading contacts and co-operative ties will be established between companies. At present, Ukrainian enterprises are co-operating with firms in Belarus and Russia — in line with the Ashgabat agreement on industrial co-operation between the CIS countries. In all, 24 Belarusian and 18 Ukrainian industrial enterprises receive components and materials as part of this co-operation, deferring VAT payments until the ready-made products are sold.
However, the potential of these liaisons remains underused. Speaking of Belarusian-Ukrainian collaboration, we have the chance to unite the potential of our scientific-production complexes, jointly producing goods competitive on both Belarusian and Ukrainian markets and far beyond, including within the Customs Union states. Agreements to develop bilateral co-operation regarding joint production were fixed on September 30th, 2010 (protocol 19 of a session of the Intergovernmental Belarusian-Ukrainian Mixed Commission on Issues of Trade-Economic Co-operation) as well as in a joint action plan which outlines the development of Belarusian-Ukrainian trade-economic collaboration for 2011. Joint facilities will appear, focusing on assembly of passenger carriages, processing of dairy products and assembly of agricultural machinery and tractors, among other promising directions.
How do you view Ukrainian support for re-integration processes within the post-Soviet space? With which public associations and organisations does the Belarusian diplomatic mission co-operate in Ukraine?
Ukrainians and Belarusians of the older generation tend to feel nostalgia for Soviet times, when a uniting idea and common goal existed. Recent sociological research indicates that about half of all Ukrainians wish the USSR remained. Taking this into account, it’s possible to assume that Ukrainian society has a desire to unite with the former Soviet republics, in a certain format.
The Belarusian Embassy in Kiev nurtures contacts and is always ready for interaction with Ukrainian public associations and organisations keen to expand Belarusian-Ukrainian ties regarding trade, culture, science and education. The majority of these organisations are for veterans, women and young people, or deal with Chernobyl problems and the patriotic upbringing of young people.
We have close contacts with numerous organisations of the Belarusian diaspora in Ukraine, which are united within the All-Ukraine Union of Belarusians. We help Belarusians organise national holidays, festivals of Belarusian song and other events devoted to the preservation of our national traditions, history and culture among Belarusian expats.
You are a laureate of Ukraine’s Person of the Year-2009 programme and, last year, were named among the top ten foreign diplomats in Ukraine by Kiev Institute of World Policy. This shows your personal contribution and the place which Belarus occupies in our neighbour’s priorities. Why is Belarus valuable and interesting to Ukraine?
Active growth of bilateral trade is the major evidence of Belarusian-Ukrainian interaction in recent years. In 2010, Ukraine was the second largest among Belarus’ trading partners, with Belarus occupying the fifth position among Ukraine’s foreign trading partners. Last year, our turnover stood at $4439.9mln., including $2562.3mln.of exports and $1877.6mln. of imports. The positive balance for Belarus was $684.7mln. Moreover, our countries have good prospects for further growth of turnover and expansion of trade-economic co-operation. Much potential is available.
From January-February 2011, the positive trend continued, with turnover rising by 51.7 percent to reach $639.2mln. Exports grew by 55.4 percent, to reach $ 344.9mln. The positive balance stood at $50.6mln. We now aim to ensure equal access to markets and technologies, expansion of co-operative ties and strengthening of collaboration, establishing true partnerships between our countries.
In recent years, co-operation in the energy sphere has significantly strengthened and expanded, with Belarus supplying oil products to Ukraine. BNH Ukraine, Ltd. traditionally operates on the Ukrainian market; in 2010, BNK-Ukraine, Ltd. and a subsidiary of Belorusneft Republican Production Association were established and are now supplying Belarusian oil products.
Last year, our energy collaboration expanded, with Belarus launching oil transportation via Ukraine to Mozyr Refinery. An intergovernmental agreement was signed on July 12th, 2010, in Kiev, envisaging measures to develop collaboration in the field of oil transportation through the territories of Belarus and Ukraine. The document opens a new page in our bilateral liaisons, providing a practical solution to our shared need to diversify energy sources.
Last year, 13 tankers of Venezuelan oil were supplied to Odessa, transported on to Mozyr by rail. In early 2011, an agreement was signed between Ukrtransnafta, OJSC and Belarusian Oil Company, CJSC on the transportation of 4m tonnes of oil in 2011, via the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline; the latter is being used for Odessa-Brody-Mozyr route on a permanent basis. I wish to stress that this project is of great significance for both Belarus and Ukraine and the whole Eastern European region. I’m convinced that both our countries are interested in long-term, steady use of Odessa-Brody oil pipeline.
How do our interests combine in the food segment, which is actively developing both in Belarus and Ukraine? I know that Belarusian cheeses are popular in Kiev — both regarding price and quality…
Belarusian-Ukrainian agricultural co-operation has long traditions which continue to develop, being an integral part of our trade-economic liaisons. Belarus exports a wide range of dairy products to Ukraine, including butter, dried and condensed milk, cheeses and sugar. We’re interested in expanding our supplies to Ukraine; moreover, our dairy and meat products are highly appreciated by Ukrainian consumers — as confirmed at numerous agricultural fairs held in Kiev.
Belarus imports grain, sunflower oil and oilseed extracts from Ukraine, with food comprising over 20 percent of our total imports from this country.
Does this mean that our economies supplement each other well?
In recent times, it’s become more obvious that Belarus-Ukraine co-operation goes beyond ‘pure trade’. Mutual supplies of ingredients and components are becoming common while mutual investments have grown in recent years. We’ve established joint assembly machine building facilities, providing direct investments into our state economies. At the moment, eight Belarusian-Ukrainian assemblies are operational. In Ukraine, joint ventures assemble MTZ tractors, Mogilevliftmash lifts and Lidaagroprommash seeders. Belarus assembles Bogdan buses, Kryukov Railway Car Building Works passenger carriages and Bratsla, JSC’s milking equipment. Meanwhile, work is underway to launch assembly of Belarus’ Belkommunmash trolley buses in Chernigov.
Our strategic aim is not only to preserve these results — working under new conditions and taking alternative routes — but to ensure the further growth of our mutual trade, while strengthening production co-operation.
People often sing the same songs in Belarusian and Ukranian villages. Does this have any importance?
Of course, our interaction goes beyond trade. We’re expanding bilateral ties in the fields of culture, education and science. In 2010, Kiev and Lvov hosted Days of Belarusian Culture in Ukraine, demonstrating the significant interest of Ukrainians in Belarusian national art. Since September 2010, students have been offered a new speciality at the Philology Department of Kiev’s National Taras Shevchenko University, studying Belarusian language and literature, Ukrainian language and literature and English language. Eight students are state funded, with one having graduated from school with a gold medal and another with a silver medal. They have arrived from all over Ukraine, with some having Belarusian roots. There were 14 applications per place for the course — almost as many as for the most popular speciality: English Language.
Regional and twin-city relations are developing, with agreements now signed by over 40 cities in Belarus and Ukraine. We could discuss our bilateral co-operation for hours, since every sphere is covered, enjoying mutual interest and joint projects.
Ukraine was among the first to recognise Belarusian sovereignty in 1991. This year, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. How have the past twenty years been valuable? Would you agree that our two independent states’ relations — which share a thousand years of history — are an example of tolerance and good neighbourliness in our disturbed world of confessional and national confrontation?
Belarus and Ukraine are connected by a thousand years of shared history, and are united by a 1,000km border and the great Dnieper River, as well as by common historical values, upon which generations of our people have been raised. We share Slavonic spirituality, alongside relatives on both sides of the border. It’s sometimes difficult to define who is who: many Belarusians have Ukrainian family names, and vice versa. Active economic, cultural and interpersonal ties are supported.
We’ve made great efforts to preserve, strengthen and expand Belarusian-Ukrainian contacts at all levels, during our years of independence. We can state firmly that our joint work has been a success, with contacts established and multi-faceted relations nurtured which, I’m sure, will continue to develop, strengthen and expand. We see interest in mutually beneficial co-operation at all levels — from our governments to ordinary people. We are striving to unite our efforts to overcome hardships and create conditions for the economic development and raised standards of living for our people.
Our relations are not subject to any political situation, being based on our states’ mutual interests, mentality, history and culture. These are the foundation of our future collaboration, as confirmed by the constructive dialogue with former President Yushchenko. During the presidency of Yanukovych, we also saw constructive and extremely open negotiations, which have been reflected in our forthcoming Belarusian-Ukrainian co-operation.
Belarus and Ukraine have passed legislation to support interrelations, irrespective of changes taking place in our states’ domestic policies or within the international arena. I’m convinced the Belarusian-Ukrainian co-operation has good prospects.