Questions and answers in open and sincere format
On importance of unity within Eurasian space
The global financial crisis has touched all countries, including our own. This has negatively influenced the rates of economic development, made exports of produce and services more complex, especially in the second half of this year. In this respect, it’s extremely important for Russia and Belarus to work together in order to more successfully overcome the problems thrown at us by the world market. We’re aware that the current situation in Russia isn’t easy, especially in the real sector of the economy. As you’ve seen, we’re not as rich as you are, so the whole of our country is the real sector of the economy, and what is created by the hands and brains of our people. Therefore, it’s not easy for us nowadays.
It’s also important that Belarusian-Russian integration promotes the strengthening of unity within the whole Eurasian space, and this is the historical meaning of Belarusian/Russian relations under contemporary conditions. Together with the Russians, we were the first to try such a deep integration after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was not achieved in either the Customs Union or the SES. Today, we’re moving gradually, by joint effort, towards the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union.
On relations with the President of Russia
It is more important how we discuss issues rather than what we discuss. These are always absolutely friendly talks. We can always sit down and have a candid discussion about any issue which sometimes is not possible, for example, between Russia and the United States, or other countries. It is a great achievement. When holding talks with any state, you always stick to some canons, protocols, and diplomatic things. Here, we feel as if we live in one state. We have good relations, although I would not say they have always been cloudless. We have always had enough issues to address. There were disagreements, and you remember them. We did not hide their reasons. But the main thing was how we settled these disputes. We settled them as friends, without any huge damage to each other. Our relations and our dialogue are a set of issues we have between our states. And not only issues. There are good things as well, and we are happy to note them. It is always a pleasure to discuss such issues…
On the Union State
Today, the Union State construction process is not only a guideline but a programme, a template for creating new integration associations, including the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Union State project was the first integration project within the post-Soviet era. We’ve done a lot in this regard. Let me quote you a simple example. When we speak about this or that issue within the framework of the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, I just stay away from such discussions. We have gone through those discussions in the Union State. If necessary, then Kazakhstan needs to join today.
Recently, a session of the Supreme State Council has taken place. Meanwhile, for some reasons, the Russian government did not take part in the Union State Council of Ministers session, which was supposed to take place in September, if I am not mistaken. They said that Kerimov was offended and others were, too. If that was the reason, then we will just have to wait. It means that we still have problems in the Union State.
On NATO exercises
We’re aware that NATO will soon be holding exercises in the Baltic region. We will make a statement to that effect, but only once. We won’t become hysterical. I think that the Foreign Ministry, maybe the Press Service of the Defence Ministry or the Minister himself will make a statement on this, but in a human way. ‘Guys, what’s up? You’ve made a drama out of our exercises, and now you are holding your own near the borders of Belarus. And what is the aim of these exercises?’ This is what we are going to say. Otherwise, it will be a sign of weakness. Why should we be hysterical?
For example, let’s look why the Poles reacted that way [the response towards Zapad-2013 exercises]. Once, the Poles and Americans agreed to host the missile defence systems on Polish territory. Then, for some reasons, they suspended this process. However, Poland still wants to revive the project, and quickly. I do not know why they want to put themselves in harm’s way. After all, an anti-missile installation is a priority target for destruction in the event of a conflict. Both the Russians and Belarusians have the means to disable it, and there’re plenty of opportunities.
For the Poles this is about money. Poland is the stronghold of Americans on the European continent today, and it is known to everyone. And they went hysterical: ‘Look! This aggressor Lukashenko, the dictator, and the second one in Moscow are about to conquer Poland!’. And what is the purpose of this? To get money. Get the money and get the anti-missile defence system in Poland. Because, if this defence system is built in Poland, it is natural that Poland will receive economic benefits and hand-outs. The Americans will have to feed a part or the whole of Poland so that they are quiet, not anti-American and service the missile defence system. There were many reasons for that outcry. However, we are not going to appease them and repeat what happened.
On migration policy
Over the past five years, more than 35,000 people have come to live in Belarus while around 9,000 Belarusians have received residence permits in Russia. These are speaking figures… The major problem we have today is not even money (although money is always the issue in this market economy) but people. Our territory needs twice as many people as we have today: we need 20 million, not 10 million. We are able to provide them with everything necessary. They will work and make more goods. If Russian people are eager to come to us from any region, they are most welcome.
On death penalty
We have not abolished the death penalty. I do not think it is good that we have the death penalty, but I am not the reason why it has not yet been abolished. There are still such cases in the country when you want to apply the death penalty. Let’s take the terrorist act in metro, in our country, in Belarus. Those culprits have been detected and found within three days. What right to life they have if people died in the metro? They’ve done this deliberately, for example. Therefore, a range of activities and the way of life in the state must create the security and safety of our people. The most important is not to forgive. Police should work off the money the state allocates for them.
To preserve the memory of the past, it is not enough to remember the past and commemorate the Great Victory. Every day, every hour we should raise our children and grandchildren; we should tell them about the war. Every night I tell my younger son stories related to the military events of various periods, not only the Great Patriotic War, but also the Patriotic War of 1812. He is already aware of the war and the damage the Nazi brought. This should be a norm in our families, because young people of today are different, no matter how wonderful and great they are…
We have doing much to preserve the historical memory. In particular, there is the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War History and the new building of the museum is under construction now. This will be Europe’s biggest and most advanced museum about the Great Patriotic War.
No responsible statesman would act the way he has done [s. Kerimov — Uralkali’s shareholder]. He doesn’t care in the slightest. It is his way of doing things. He is a market-minded businessman. This [Uralkali] was built by Russians, Belarusians, Tajiks, Uzbeks… The enterprise was created by everyone many years ago. He grabbed these shares instantaneously and he does what he wants… Berezniki [the Russian town where the enterprise is located] does not profit from getting land slumps. The owners don’t care that the enterprise doesn’t work and that people over there are paid very low salaries!
I am fed up with private businessmen of that kind. They just want to grab their profits and hide them somewhere far away in Cyprus, in Switzerland or some other offshore area…
I’ll tell you where to find money [to solve the problem of Berezniki]. You can take Uralkali’s shares away from the scoundrels, who have acquired the shares in some incomprehensible ways, and give the shares to people in Berezniki. For $20 billion that the company cost you could have built a blooming paradise there and take away people from this marsh, from the town which is today going underground…
Kerimov, Baumgertner and the like promised to bear social responsibility, take care of jobs and so on when they acquired the enterprise. I know: they guaranteed when they were taking away the enterprise. In your place I would have locked up Kerimov and his people for one night. The next day they would have sold all the assets at the top price. If they had failed, I would have found a buyer for them. It would have earned $12-13 billion, and all this would have been sent to Berezniki.
You are wasting your time trying to find money in Baumgertner. What money does he have? One hundredth of what Kerimov people have, I’ll have you know. He was an employee but he is guilty.
I’ve received a letter from Berezniki residents. You see that everyone uses Soviet methods, collecting signatures from those employed at the enterprise. I intended to travel there and tell the truth to people, to tell them how things happened. But I think they wouldn’t understand me right. But we are preparing an answer for the people. I know how the signatures were collected. Ordinary workers don’t care who the managers will be, they just need jobs. But the managers have ruined the enterprise!
The shares of our company have not collapsed. Yes, our budget has lost up to $1.5 billion and the budget has lost something. However, you [Russia] have lost twice as much. One tonne of potash fertilisers cost $900 and annually our country earned $4 billion — golden years. But then some people approached Dmitry Rybolovlev [former owner of Uralkali], demanding his shares and threatening him with imprisonment or murder. I am not covering for him. But he was honest, he worked in the way we’ve agreed. I am not going to specify the sum he sold the shares for. It was a good price but nothing compared to what the company was worth. And he was thrown out.
Kerimov promised to take care of the development of potash fertilisers production. Later on he said he was quitting the Belarusian Potash Company, severing relations, going to sell merchandise on his own, focusing on volumes instead of prices. They were ready to offer as much potash fertilisers as the market can take and damn the price. And by doing it they broke the market and damaged budgets of the states.
We could make the decision [in the Belarusian Potash Company] only together and they were unwilling to get the decision made. While we had chosen the new director, they just didn’t want to hold the session of the Supervisory Board to approve this decision. Why? They said they wanted us out of the market in order to use the market for themselves.
Before that, there was an attempt to buy the Belarusian Potash Company. A person approached me offering $10 billion as the state cut and $5 billion as my cut. I told the person: ‘Tell him he will be imprisoned if he comes here. The attempts stopped. But still tension remained’.
On struggle against corruption
The most important is the following: if you have started fighting this hydra, fight till the end. Working by fits and starts is unacceptable. In our situation this is one of the most important issues the President should monitor every day. In our reality corruption can be compared to rust, while rust corrodes any metal. For example, we’ve created a good structure, but in a month or a year it is destroyed by rust. Therefore, if corruption is widespread in a country, no matter what you do, everything will fail…
However, there are several principal conditions. If you’ve said that you would fight corruption, you should have an impeccable reputation yourself. If there is a slightest suspicion that you have done something wrong, something that can be interpreted as corruption, your reputation will be ruined forever. You are no fighter. There can be mistakes, but it is better to avoid them. It is a very delicate work, delicate fight. It can be even compared to some self-sacrifice. You cannot be rich, you cannot even earn money. Your children cannot work at commercial or private companies where they will be able to make money in an honest way. Therefore, when I became President, I immediately told my children: you will never run a private business as long as I am President. I am carrying on…
On spread of market principles
This should be done very carefully and smoothly in order to prevent social tensions in society. Otherwise, these tensions will be very hard to defuse afterwards. Later, when gangsters will seize the economy, they will do anything to confront the state and preserve what they think is theirs. They already have their militants booted and spurred, and they have their deadly weapons — terrorism — that spread around the world. We cannot let it happen. No country can let it happen…
I tell them to purchase Belaruskali for $30 billion. They say: ‘we will give $15 billion, of which $10 billion will be transferred to the budget and the remaining $5 billion will go to you. No way. We do not need this kind of market economy. Moreover, Russians don’t need such market economy either.
On interaction with Ukraine
Why are we blaming Ukraine that it’s negotiating something [negotiations about association with the European Union]? I remind Kazakhstan and Russia that they are both holding such talks. We [Belarus] are not, because they do not want to talk to us at all. It is clear that Lukashenko is a dreadful enemy for them. Maybe, they will never talk to me. I will not give our companies to them, I will not let them hurt our people and they won’t cross the border, as they like…
You are holding talks, they are holding talks. There is no drama about it. There is no drama either that they [Ukraine] will sign some agreement with the European Union. There is a risk, however, that these documents will block their way to us, to the Customs Union, the Single Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Union.
If the Ukraine-EU agreement provides for lower customs duties, this may do harm to the SES partners, provided the borders are open. Therefore, you [Ukraine] can conduct talks and sign agreements with anyone you want, but if you want to join us, you will have to observe our arrangements. Otherwise, we will not be able to co-operate with you, especially in economy and trade. I told this Nikolai Azarov [Prime Minister of Ukraine] and repeated what I had said at the closed session. Putin upheld me on that. I talked to him recently and we touched upon this matter. He said: ‘It is absolutely right, let them proceed with these talks, they are a sovereign and independent state; however, they might block their way to us and bring damage to us by signing some agreements’.
People are not to blame for anything. Even if Ukraine joins NATO tomorrow, we will have to maintain relations with them. There is no other option for us — our people are there.
This is quite a complex problem. But we should, without blaming each other, sit down and try to come to grips with the situation before Ukraine signs this agreement with the EU. We need to think what we will do in each of the possible developments.
On gambling business
When Russia prohibited gambling, its gamblers flocked to Belarus, especially from Moscow. Some in Belarus made proposals to prohibit this business as well, but I did not support the idea. I suggested we wait and see whether they would bring us harm or not. We supervise casinos very tightly but we are not planning to outlaw them. We do not want to drive them under-the-counter. Nevertheless, control is very tight. We want casinos play by the rules. I don’t think that they won’t be able to ‘launder’ something. Anyway, they haven’t turned into criminal centres in our country…
On labour migrants
People from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries, mainly families and people with kids, come to Belarus. We welcome them. If they settle down in rural areas and ask for land, it is profitable for us. They work at construction sites. The best propagandists in Belarus are people that come to Belarus from places where life is difficult. They are pleased to become private businessmen, farmers, and work in the production sector. The fact that they come here is not important. Having a system in place, procedures for welcoming them is vital.
On alliance of MAZ-KamAZ and BelAZ JSC
I ask investors three questions: which investment are they ready to inject into development, which new technologies they will bring and which new markets they will open?
Considering these three parameters, they [the Russian side] have no money, their technologies are worse than those applied at MAZ, because MAZ produces competitive products whose sales would be the same as those of KamAZ if the two companies were in equal conditions... In what way are you going to take part in the modernisation? In no way. Then I have a question for you: can you guarantee that you will not try to buy the company for a song (you have no money to pay a fair price) and make sure that MAZ will not end up producing only wheel rims? Can you guarantee that? I am not sure. That is the answer to your question…
We won’t give BelAZ to anyone. It is one of the country’s brands, it is Belarus’ pride, which accounts for 30 percent of the global market of trucks. The company was the world’s first to produce the dump truck with the carrying capacity of 450 tonnes.
On the championship
I have warned everyone — both private traders and state-owned retail organisations — not to overprice their services during the IIHF World Championship. Usually, you know, prices are sky-high during big sports events; it’s a shame. Ukraine is still criticised for the European Football Cup. People, arriving in the country, will pay in any case but they will leave the state with bad impressions. It’s important which mood do people have when they leave the country.
I am proud to be the elected president of my people. It is sincere truth. The fact that we’ve created our own state is an accomplishment of me and my colleagues.
Belarus used to be a suburb, a province, well-developed and convenient. I cannot say that we had a bad republic during the Soviet times, although it had some drawbacks. We didn’t have a state, and the people weren’t even mentally prepared for one. We took over the country on the edge, and we’ve managed to preserve it, providing our people with food and clothing. We’ve modernised the country and the enterprises the best way we could. At the same time, we’ve created a sovereign and independent state. It was extremely difficult.