By Vasily Kharitonov
The President stated, “I’d like to say a few words about the situation that, of course, is bothering the leadership of our country and the Belarusian nation. The issue is being covered broadly by the media: from reports about the situation to some attempts to provoke Lukashenko to voice his position on developments in Ukraine. Those who have closely followed developments won’t bother with such attempts, because we announced our position at the outset: a consolidated and single position. Our Foreign Minister was instructed to inform the international community and foreign governments of our position, which he did — and our position remains unchanged.”
He continued, “Of course, we’re concerned about the ongoing developments in Ukraine. Ukraine is an allied country: a brotherly nation. Frankly, the people of Ukraine don’t deserve what is happening to them and to their country. It’s a heroic nation; the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians fought against Fascism; we were together in the last war and we won that war. Therefore, taking into consideration our common historical background, our position is unambiguous.”
Trade between Belarus and Ukraine has now neared $7bn. As the President noted, “This demonstrates the extremely close economic ties between Belarus and Ukraine.” He added that ‘there are politicians in Ukraine who have undertaken to address the problems of the Ukrainian people’. “We aren’t interfering in any way. Nor are our relations with Ukraine disrupted; economic ties remain paramount. We’ve always met Ukrainian business halfway and continue to do so. The Prime Minister has been instructed to control the process. We’ve supplied and will continue supplying energy resources, food and other products to Ukraine. We are fully open to providing support to the Ukrainian people in this difficult time, including humanitarian assistance,” emphasised the Belarusian leader.
Mr. Lukashenko believes that the new Ukrainian authorities should engage in ensuring the welfare of their country and people rather than ‘running abroad’. He asserted, “I’ve been asked one question lately many times — and the general public is not aware: as a man with roots buried between Chernigov and Kiev, what should happen in Ukraine to overcome the crisis? Jokingly, I tell them to relax and work it out. If they are still unsure, just let us take over and we’ll ensure stability, national unity and state integrity by the year’s end.”
The President underlined that, in Belarus, no reason exists for revolutionary events such as those seen in Ukraine. “A Maidan won’t happen in Minsk; there’s no room for a Maidan here. We don’t have any major reason for such a revolution. We all know the key reason, as I’ve already mentioned: the dreadful collapse of the economy and corruption led to the breakdown of the government. We haven’t allowed such a thing, as is our greatest achievement.”
Mr. Lukashenko also commented on media comments that he ‘isn’t yielding to pressure from the Kremlin regarding the situation in Ukraine’. He underlined, “No one is pressurising me because, firstly, it’s futile — or, as diplomats say, counterproductive. I’ll defend the interests of our country and act in strict compliance with our agreements, including the Union State treaty, where we have direct obligations, as Russia does.”
The President also called ‘cheap’ certain Western media forecasts that Russia would behave to Belarus as it has done in Ukraine. “If they seek to intimidate us, it is a very cheap way of doing so. There’s no need to frighten us. We’ll act strictly in compliance with the legal framework between Russia and Belarus. I’ve repeated on numerous occasions that we are Slavs — like the Russians and Ukrainians — and we’ll always be together. We won’t push to escalate any process relating to Ukrainian events or relating to the Russian standoff with the West and the USA,” the Belarusian leader commented. He doesn’t conceal his regular contact with the President of Russia: alongside issues of bilateral collaboration, they have discussed events in Ukraine and, according to Mr. Lukashenko, Belarus can’t close its eyes, since the conflict escalating is so near its borders.
“It affects our interests, so we can’t sit like a mouse under a broom. However, I emphasise again that we aren’t going to fuss. We’ll respond adequately and if NATO decides to send its air force near our borders, we won’t stand by silently. They have deployed an additional half a dozen fighter-interceptors in Lithuania, flying them near our borders, so I suggest we respond appropriately. The Defence Minister has received my instruction, which I’m told is being implemented,” the President revealed.
The President of Belarus believes that the aggravation of the situation near the borders is a contemporary reality, as a military exercise in Poland proves. Mr. Lukashenko underlined that this requires a corresponding response, stating, “We were calm about it until a major exercise began in southern Poland, with Poland requesting reinforcements and an increase in the scale of the exercise. I wonder why this happened now, when the situation is far from calm in the region? Moreover, I’m told that more than ten additional aircraft were transferred yesterday evening, during the night, or this morning, from Italy, heading to the exercise area (after aircraft were relocated from the UK to Lithuania).”
The President notes that Belarus and Russia have joint forces in the west, set up within the framework of the Union State. An action plan exists in readiness, although Mr. Lukashenko explains, “This isn’t a military conflict. We are not going to announce mobilisation or put our Armed Forces on combat alert. Yet, we have to plan an appropriate response for such cases. If about 15 aircraft have been relocated from Italy, we need to contact the Russian General Chief of Staff to suggest a reinforcement of, let us say, 12-15 aircraft at most — as Russia is supposed to give us. These aircrafts should be relocated to Belarus, and patrol routes and backup routes should be determined — as exist for Belarusian aircraft, patrolling the skies. We have nothing to hide.”
Mr. Lukashenko announced that the first stage of Armed Forces inspection was recently completed, being launched long before the aggravation of the situation at the border. He commented, “I think that it’s time for us to start the second phase of the inspection of the Armed Forces; as part of this inspection, we’ll deploy, if necessary, additional forces, and will conduct appropriate exercises — as our neighbours in Poland are doing. We have enough units ready for rapid response if necessary. They can be deployed at short notice and are fully equipped. We have enough combat-ready people in the Interior Ministry: well-trained military people. If necessary, border troops will be involved. This is the algorithm I, as Commander-In-Chief, have set before our military.”
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Defence Minister Yuri Zhadobin informed the President of the military-political situation and the military-strategic environment evolving beyond Belarus’ borders. In particular, he said that preparations are underway for a NATO air force exercise in the north-west of Lithuania and in western Poland. With this in mind, another six combat aircraft have been added to the four already stationed at a Lithuanian airfield; as many as 12 combat aircraft are ready to redeploy to an airfield in Poland for the exercise.
After the session, the Defence Minister told journalists about the President’s command to bolster Belarusian air defence, saying, “The Head of State has instructed that we verify our plan of interaction within the framework of the Belarus-Russia united regional air defence system, relocating up to 12 Russian combat aircraft to our territory as soon as possible.”
The President also listened to a report from Alexander Mezhuyev, the State Secretary of the Security Council, who gave the results of the first phase of tests for the operational readiness of the Armed Forces.
As agreed, Russian Federation fighter aircraft are to be relocated to Belarusian aerodromes, notes the Commander of the Air Defence Forces of the Armed Forces of Belarus, Oleg Dvigalev.