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President gives interview to non-state media

Sincere conversation in open format

President gives interview to non-state media

Alexander Lukashenko promised to hold open dialogue with representatives of the Belarusian and foreign media in January and recently kept his word, hosting journalists from Euroradio, Svaboda Radio and the TUT.BY Internet portal at the Palace of Independence.

In fact, the interview was held in the same hall used for hosting night-long negotiations between the ‘Normandy four’ leaders in February: another instance of open and sincere conversation, without any closed topics. Addressing the media, the President answered a great many questions over a period of four and a half hours. Some moments brought acute discussion on urgent topics, including Mr. Lukashenko voicing his belief that Russia won’t ever show military aggression towards Belarus. He gave his view on the necessary conditions for achieving peace in Ukraine and responded to queries on what changes the elections may bring. He also explained the situation with the Rouble exchange rate, salaries and prices. Mr. Lukashenko even shared information on who receives his home-grown watermelons!

We offer you the interview highlights.

On language

Nobody in our country has the right to tell people what language they should speak. I’ll never do so. Language is more valuable than money, clothes or food. Over 60 percent of the population considers Belarusian to be their native tongue: a higher percentage than in the past. If we placed pressure on the issue, the effect would be at least contrary. As maximum, the situation might even come to resemble Ukraine’s. Language issues set everything in motion over there.

On the UN summit in New York

The proposal was made to all heads of state, and we appreciate the opportunities of the visit. We’ve been invited to speak at the UN summit twice: during open discussion and during thematic discussion. Therefore, we’re likely to visit the UN.

On relations with Russia

Russia won’t ever show military aggression towards Belarus. This would be a catastrophe for Russia itself. Russia is not considering depriving us of our sovereignty or independence under any terms or parameters. Moreover, Belarus is the only honest, respectable and reliable ally of the Russian Federation.

On the idea of the ‘Russian world’

This phrase has almost vanished from media usage, including in Russia. I believe they’ve heeded my critical remark and removed it from the agenda. It sounded strange, didn’t it? Our people do not understand it either. Can we speak about Belarusian or Ukrainian worlds? What would these be? Some confrontation of worlds? It’s a far-fetched, silly idea. I don’t think it has found any support among Belarusians.

On the electoral campaign

Do you really think that I’m in favour of having fewer presidential candidates? I’m not trying to freeze this process in any way. Let them collect signatures wherever they want, and prove their worth. They are too distanced from the nation. They don’t believe in their own ability to gain victory, so they write everywhere that Lukashenko will win.

Some people do amaze me. They don’t want to be candidates for the post of president but they enter the race, looking for an excuse to withdraw. Later, they blame me and the Government for creating obstacles against them. Our election legislation is normal: as good as in other countries.

Don’t bring me the example of Ukraine. As a result of ‘progressive’ Ukrainian law, all large oligarchic groups are presented in the Verkhovna Rada: elections revolve around money. As long as I’m president, there won’t be such a situation in Belarus. You’ll have the opportunity to follow the process of counting votes, to visit polling stations and to gain all information about the election. I can guarantee it.

On the Rouble exchange rate

We didn’t initiate the 30 percent devaluation. Our main markets for sales are Russia and Kazakhstan, so we couldn’t keep the exchange rate of the national currency. We aren’t keeping it up now, regardless of the interventions of the National Bank. This will never change. We know we can’t raise salaries significantly so we’ve begun suppressing prices. We’ve even decided not to go with the annual $5 price increase for utilities. We’ve frozen prices for many commodities, with prices regulated by the state.

On salaries

I really want to see higher wages in our country, especially at the moment, but the situation (mostly for objective reasons) is that we cannot keep wages at a high level. Lack of production and poor sales are the reasons, and we won’t print money. However, I’m sure that, in one or two years, we’ll return to the level we previously enjoyed.  I’m sure that, with our agreements with China, Pakistan, India and other states, who need our products, we’ll cope.

On external debt

We’ll find, collect and repay our loans. In Ufa, together with members of the Government, we took a vow to solve the problem of debt within five years. We plan to manage without borrowing, repaying all debts within about five years.

On the situation in Ukraine

Russia and America should sit down at the negotiating table and stop this war. This is vital; everything else is minor. I’m absolutely against the presence of any troops in Ukraine, be they Russian or American, or mercenaries from Poland, Sweden or elsewhere. No one will ever attack Ukraine from our territory.

As far as relations with our southern neighbour are concerned, there won’t be intervention from the territory of Belarus into the territory of Ukraine. No one will attack Ukraine from our territory unless the situation is in conflict with our interests and unless Ukraine attacks Belarus. This will never happen.

Mr. Lukashenko added that many violations have been registered along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border: from smuggling to the penetration of people with weapons. Accordingly, Belarus is reinforcing its border protection.

Speaking about the Russian contingent in Belarus, Mr. Lukashenko noted that two military bases are located here, for peaceful purposes. He emphasises that they are numerically insignificant, and also employ Belarusian citizens.

President Lukashenko is absolutely against the presence of any troops in Ukraine, be they Russian or American, or mercenaries from Poland, Sweden or elsewhere. He notes that we are in the midst of an information war, seeing confrontation between countries within the information space. He believes that Russia is stronger in this respect but believes that Russia and the USA need to meet at the negotiating table to end the conflict in Ukraine.

Much has changed since Belarus first proposed settling the situation in our southern neighbouring state. As the President notes, “At that time, I saw a different solution to the situation. Maybe, US involvement was not needed at that point. Things could have been settled with less fighting and bloodshed. I told the congressmen that if the United States was interested in peace in Ukraine and would be ready to take certain steps, it could act as a peacekeeper, sorting out the situation with Russia. This is my opinion.”

The President’s major task is to ensure public and state security. “This is essential. People may not receive their salaries for one, two or three months but they will forgive. However, the nation won’t ever forgive or forget if we give up our sovereignty and independence,” Mr. Lukashenko is convinced.

On independence

Whoever comes to us with a sword, will perish by the sword. This is the major obligation of the President. You often criticise me for the situation with jobs, salaries and so on, but forget that people must primarily take care of themselves, in order to feed their families. People may not receive salaries for one, two or three months but they will forgive; however, the nation won’t ever forgive or forget if we give up sovereignty and independencee.

By Evgeny Kononov
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