On September 26th-29th, the President of Belarus paid an official visit to the USA
In addition, Mr. Lukashenko participated in general political discussion at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, presenting Belarus’ approach to acute international problems. During his stay in the USA, the President held several bilateral meetings with other state leaders, including the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Alexander Lukashenko has participated in the UN Summit on Sustainable Development and the 70th session of the UN General Assembly
Despite the many languages used by participants, UN meetings are no ‘Babylon’; there are no obstacles where common goals exist. However, differing national interests remain a barrier to mutual understanding. The 60th session of the UN General Assembly saw the Belarusian President warn of dangerous consequences in moving from a multi-polar to a single-polar model. At that time, he said of the major powers, “Where no conflicts exist, they feel these should be encouraged; if no pretexts for intervention exist, then virtual pretexts should be created.”
Ten years have passed and much has changed but, sadly, not for the better. As the President noted, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and other Arabic arc states are in chaos, or on the edge. This arc is not simply hot but is on fire. Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine threatens to spread across Europe, although the Minsk process has allowed some localisation. It’s too early to speak of a ceasefire of course. The ‘fire’ has been cultivated by certain states pouring petrol onto the ashes, keeping conflict simmering. The rhetoric of interests is senseless and cynical.
In his speech at the 70th UN General Assembly session, Mr. Lukashenko called for a fair and adequate assessment of events. Clearly, not every state would speak so frankly, but solutions are impossible without honesty. Our world lacks bravery and honesty, which may be the cause of Babylon-like dissociation in our modern world.
General discussion at the Summit on Sustainable Development was primarily devoted to the achievement of goals outlined in the 2000 UN Millennium Summit. The overall conclusion of the UN is that progress has been achieved in a global context.
Let’s compare global challenges with those faced by Belarus:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. In 1990, almost half of the population of developing countries was living on less than $1.25 a day. Meanwhile, Belarusians viewed a salary of $30 as ‘rather decent’. At present, 14 percent of developing states’ population (almost 1bln people) have this level of income.
Goal 2: General elementary education for the global population. In the early 21st century, 17 percent of children lacked access to such education (against 9 percent currently). Belarus has never faced this problem.
Goal 3: Equal rights for men and women. It’s enough to look at the composition of the Belarusian Parliament to understand that this is not an issue for Belarus.
Goal 4: Reduced child mortality. In Belarus, this factor is near zero.
Goal 5: Improve statistics for maternal death. At present, just 71 percent of women globally give birth to children with the help of a qualified doctor. This issue, again, is not to the fore in Belarus.
Goal 6: Fight against AIDS, malaria and other dangerous diseases. This problem has affected our country but without catastrophe occurring.
Goal 7: Provision of ecological sustainability and pure drinking water: an issue of no relevance in Belarus.
Goal 8: Improved global partnerships. Despite its modest economy, Belarus is not too reliant on others, maintaining a certain level of independence. Everything is balanced.
Naturally, we may complain that our life could be better or wealthier; over the past 25 years, much progress has been evident and, in comparison with other nations, we have few ‘problems’. Realising our advantages, we should be proud of our social and economic situation, while identifying what needs further work.
The President’s working schedule in New York was tough, starting with a visit to the National Memorial devoted to the 11th September tragedy. He laid a wreath to victims, and flowers at the memorial honouring Belarusian citizen Irina Buslo.
The UN Summit encourages opportunities for constructive bilateral meetings. Speaking to Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Lukashenko discussed interaction and prospects, including a possible new co-operative programme. He expressed hope that the latter would apply a balanced approach to the interests of the country and its state policy, providing a high level of social protection. The President thanked the IMF heads for successfully realising the 2009-2010 stand-by programme, which helped ease the negative consequences of the external economic crisis.
On meeting the President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Raul Castro, the sides talked over the state and prospects of Belarusian-Cuban relations, placing emphasis on the trade and economic sector. The parties took note of potential for further strengthening of bilateral comprehensive co-operation. Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Castro shared opinions on key issues within the current international agenda and confirmed a course of mutual support within the international arena.
In dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, the President emphasised that Belarus would stay committed to maintaining human rights and said, “We have no unsettled issues with your Office. I’ve been informed that we’ve done well in the recent Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, I’d like to be frank with you: we won’t allow anybody to impose ‘human rights’ on us and politicise them. It is absolutely unacceptable and I know your standpoint: you have never welcomed the politicisation of human rights.”
Mr. Lukashenko thanked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for supporting the Belarusian initiative of combating human trafficking. “I’d like to assure you that we’ll stay committed to this policy. We’ll promote it worldwide and will make a good example for other states in the fight against human trafficking,” the President stressed.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights thanked the Belarusian President for co-operation with the Office in a number of areas, including the fight against human trafficking and discrimination.
Mr. Lukashenko also met the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, discussing the situation in south-east Ukraine. They stressed that victims among peaceful citizens are inadmissible. The Belarusian President pointed out the importance of taking prompt resolute measures to end hostilities, especially in view of the possible escalation of conflict across Europe.
The UN Secretary General thanked Mr. Lukashenko for his constructive role in resolving the conflict in Ukraine, and noted that Minsk had become a symbol of peace. The President then signed the Distinguished Guests Book.
On the second day of his visit, Mr. Lukashenko held several bilateral meetings, also delivering a speech during the UN GA’s general session.
Priorities define future
The 70th UN General Assembly session has inspired human development priorities for the coming 15 years, with state leaders agreeing co-operation across five major avenues:
People. Battling hunger and poverty, while providing equal rights and caring for the environment;
Planet. Protecting the environment against degradation, ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources, and battling the negative consequences of climate change;
Prosperity. Implementing measures towards economic, social and technological progress, without damaging the environment;
Peace. Based on the thesis that ‘sustainable development is impossible without peace, while peace cannot exist without sustainable development’;
Partnership. Renewal and strengthening of nations’ partnerships.
17 global focuses have been outlined for sustainable development, via 169 tasks. However, the GA session indicated that countries’ national interests must remain a priority, despite our shared understanding of global threats and challenges. Such an approach leaves opportunities for contradiction, since the interests of small states are often in opposition with those of major players, who possess more power to realise their goals.
Barack Obama’s speech on equal rights and democratic values made a great deal of sense. However, his transparent hint that Washington views Russia and China as competitors, or even rivals, wounded me, as did statements regarding the USA’s powerful armed forces. Mr. Obama noted that the military are only brought to bear in extreme cases but a later remark mentioned that armed forces would be used if necessary.
Swordplay between the USA and Russia on the Syrian problem was evident. Vladimir Putin proposed a coalition to fight against the Islamic State, assisting the Syrian army, while Mr. Obama called the Syrian president a tyrant bombing children. Of course, nothing is simple in global politics. Global peace seems a far off and fragile concept. Belarusian President Lukashenko spoke of an emerging ‘spectre of war’, only to be warded off by dialogue reflecting mutual interest and respect.
The UN venue not only promotes multilateral contacts but strengthens grounds for bilateral talks. In two days of work in New York, Mr. Lukashenko held several meetings with colleagues. On the last day of his stay in America, he met the Federal President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, sharing opinions on key aspects of Belarusian-Austrian co-operation. Mr. Fischer thanked the Belarusian President for the important steps taken to commemorate victims of World War II and mentioned the opening of the Trostenets Memorial. In turn, Mr. Lukashenko invited the Federal President of Austria to visit Belarus at any time convenient.
Chatting to the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa Delgado, the two discussed preparations for Mr. Lukashenko’s forthcoming visit to Ecuador, which is likely to take place next year, as part of the Belarusian President’s tour of several Latin American states.
On meeting the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the two agreed to exchange top level visits. Meanwhile, a roadmap of co-operation is planned for development by an inter-governmental commission, in Cairo, in late 2015.
These meetings bring not only mutual benefit but contribute to more sustainable world architecture, with contacts strengthened. The President notes their necessity, while emphasising the need for an integration of integrations.
Road map of action
The President’s speech at the GA’s 70th session received politologists’ assessment. Sergey Kizima, the Head of the International Relations Department at the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President, believes Mr. Lukashenko’s proposal to provide each state with a real — rather than declared — possibility to choose its own path of development is of relevance.
“Over the past two decades, major and influential states have stepped back from this important principle of international relations. As a result, the numbers of deaths has grown and there is greater instability,” he underlined. “This doesn’t promote human rights or democracy but attempts (under their cover) to bring to power those who would ally with influential states, which interfere in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.”
Mr. Lukashenko mentioned Iraq, Libya and Syria, where instability and chaos have become commonplace and millions have become refugees. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and terrorist groups have gained influence. Ukraine is facing a similar scenario. It’s high time that we respect each state’s sovereignty, and ability to independently decide its political regime.
According to Mr. Kizima, the UN has less influence than in previous decades. When the USA and the USSR restrained each other within the global arena, the UN was able to solve important issues. Since the USSR’s collapse, the USA has been without counterbalance; as a result, the UN has become not a venue for discussion but an instrument for the USA to force its will over other nations worldwide.
“Attempts by some UN functionaries to restore the organisation’s original role as a global arbiter and a hub for harmonising global relations has faced tough counteraction from the USA. The UN, being headquartered in the USA and enjoying a rather modest budget, cannot fully realise its vital functions. Unsurprisingly, we are seeing less harmony worldwide and more contradictions. As the President correctly noted, UN resolutions often act not to solve problems but to demonstrate the USA’s geopolitical supremacy, pressing the majority to vote for aspects profitable mostly to only one nation,” Mr. Kizima says.
Another Belarusian politologist, Alexey Dzermant, believes the situation needs reformation. “More precise mechanisms are needed to fulfil UN decisions. Over the past 20 years, some states have dared to independently take decisions, without consulting with the UN, and seriously influencing the global agenda. If no change is introduced into decision making at the UN Security Council, this international organisation could become an unable structure,” he warns.
Speaking of the Middle Eastern crisis, as mentioned by President Lukashenko in his UN speech, Mr. Dzermant adds, “As we see it, Russia has decided to interfere in the Syrian situation. In this respect, the President is right: everything depends on a common position. If the West and Russia fail to agree on settling the situation constructively, using military action against the Islamic State to various extents, this Middle Eastern crisis is unlikely to be solved. Meanwhile, some players — like Russia and the EU (to a lesser degree) — aim to solve this crisis.”