Talking sincerely about vital issues
The President took part in voting at polling station #1, in Minsk’s Tsentralny District, located within the University of Physical Culture
The President took part in voting at polling station #1, in Minsk’s Tsentralny District, located within the University of Physical Culture. From early morning, it was busy, with voters progressively appearing, watched by foreign observers, who eagerly shared their assessment of the process. The majority perceived the elections as being held calmly, with no deviation from legislation.
It was a full house at the site, which was designated for the President’s communication with the press. Initially, a short conversation was planned, which later transformed into a substantive press conference. A free microphone was in place, allowing each journalist (Belarusian and foreign) to ask questions.
Mr. Lukashenko bid farewell to journalists only once convinced that all questions had been asked, and invited them to come to Belarus any time to see, listen and draw their own conclusions. He asked only one thing: objectivity.
In his conversation with journalists, the President particularly focused on:
This election campaign was unprecedented in terms of number of foreign observers and authorities’ desire to meet the demands of international organisations in relation to national election law’s integration into their standards. Would you like to express any claims or wishes to the candidates and those intended to assess the elections?
Maybe, you are the one who knows some international standards, but I’m not. I would like to be familiarised with some standards that we should meet. As I used to declare earlier, our main principle is to conduct elections according to our Constitution and laws, which are recognised worldwide. That was more than once mentioned by unbiased persons observing our politics, including during this election campaign. Such observers appreciate the campaign itself, the early voting practice and process, and our election laws.
Someone dislike our early voting practice; however, in my opinion, the bastion of democracy — the United States — conduct early voting even few months prior to the election day, and that is just an example of many. So, you’d better adjust their practice according to your wishes prior to criticising us.
Availability of such standards is another issue. In order to meet some standards, these should be set up, either within the United Nations (as we have suggested with Russia) or OSCE (as we’ve suggested on behalf of the CIS and Eurasian Economic Union). Once these standards are adopted, we will never break them.
But let’s put it aside. Should our foreign guests — observers, predictors or, even, dreamers — make any reasonable suggestions beneficial to us, then we would implement them at once. There were numerous innovations of the kind both in Presidential and parliamentary elections. That is why ‘election standards’ are merely a media cliché, but not a real norm, unfortunately.
Speaking about wishes to my opponents — other three candidates, as I see — I would wish to keep self-respect in resuming the elections. I’m ready to recognise my failure, should I lose, and any other candidate should do the same. That is respect and contribution to Belarusian people and our country. What else? I would wish you, the pressmen, and not only local, to have worthy reports and materials to show. I would wish peace to the Belarusian people, and that is my own duty while I’m President. I would wish to any other person, being the President of our country in such turbulent and uneasy times for us, our neighbours, our region and the whole world, to be able to ensure peaceful life. Maybe, health is the most precious for people. It is the foundation for our mood and any other aspect. But health of our children is even more precious, and that is the only thing worthy to be wished. Anything other may be sold and bought.
May these elections become a key milestone in Belarus-West relations? What may be an obstacle to warming?
These elections, as anything others, may lead to warmer Belarus-West relations if the West so desires, only. We did everything demanded from us by the West in view of the campaign. Nothing and nobody can prevent the West from being an adequate partner unless it desires the opposite.
May we expect some unpopular measures to be taken in order to fulfil certain points of your election programme, should you win the elections?
You know my position, and I’m not going to abandon my general principle in state governance: peace and no revolutions. This is my goal, in economy in particular. Some radical solutions may be taken in, say, policy or legislature, with no grave or drastic outcome, but not in economy. It is never subject to radicalism and will always react to the breaking, sooner or later. You have seen me making evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes within two decades. Though not fast in feedback, such way is not painful for people. Once I was asked whether I was ready to fundamental changes and so on. I’m ready for anything, but will the nation sustain? And does the nation really need it? Initiating some abrupt progress and fulfilling it are completely different things! It’s easy to say ‘come on’, but will there be many to reach the end? So, it is not a matter of my will, I’m ready for any reform and transition, including, though not my favourite, revolutionary, should the people desire so. No one can reproach me with infringing people’s will in the past. I promised to meet Belarusians’ expectations and will implement any revolutionary changes and breakthroughs, if so demanded. It is a matter of people’s will, not mine. But I consider evolution more preferable, as far as the society accepts it. Every leader will match the people’s pace, a step or a half-step, only, ahead. Should you run as fast as possible, and you will be left alone, even if in progress, with no one to support and implement your so reasonable and beneficial reforms and transitions.
Can you further ensure staying aside from aggression against Ukraine, if elected the President?
Are there still doubts about it in Ukraine? More than once I mentioned this issue. With Turchynov as the Acting President we had a meeting at Pripyat River when he asked a similar question tête-a-tête, saying that he didn’t want to ask in front of journalists being not sure in my response. I called him to ask me in presence of journalists. I had nothing to hide: Belarus should never be a source or site of aggression against any nation, never. Have we managed to keep the promise? Yes, we have. It is very uneasy situation today. Mr. Poroshenko admitted that the Donbass peace treaty created and undersigned here, in Minsk, became an armistice. Even he, former radical, declared a truce. And, I’m sure peace will follow soon. Then we will have no occasion to guess whether Belarus may be an aggressor or accomplice thereof. I repeat: it is related to everyone, not Ukraine only. But God save the ones rattling the sabre near our borders…
Let’s live in peace and put an end to all wars, small and large-scale, everywhere. We are all brothers: Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians. We have nothing to quarrel about. It’s time to live in peace, to stop making troubles and interfering into domestic affairs of each other.
I’m not worried about Ukraine’s wish to try a ‘EU share’. That is their right. However, they should keep in mind that only they will be liable for all consequences. I mean their ability to compete in the EU. There is open trade area for Ukraine, but what do they export? It is not an easy deal. We tried to enter the EU market with our agricultural products, much better than in many other CIS states, and certain companies even managed to stay. But very few persons know how long and how much it did take. It’s only one vector, while the EU has everything other that Ukraine and we produce, as well. The market is protected not only with toughest competition, but with tariff and non-tariff barriers, too. We are not worried about the situation, neither Russia is now, as there is no significant progress in EU-Ukraine free trade.
We respect Ukrainians’ choice of their way and will adapt to any policy and course of actions. We would never claim against you, unless are related to, and would never counteract — we are relatives. But stop sending guerrilla troops to our country, we are tired of arresting them at the border carrying grenades, bats, guns, ammunition. I’m tired and sick of reading related reports and watching movies and pictures. Let’s have peace.
Some years ago, at a similar meeting after voting, you promised to invite reporters to your home, to show you place and way of life…
Are you really willing to see my home? I will consult with my family and, then, invite you. At least, I’ll try. I have nothing to hide. By the way, I have no residence of my own. Today I came from the house built and used by Piotr Masherov. He should have had a large family — there are 3 or 4 bedrooms, and I don’t need them all. Therefore, some were converted into a study and archives, and that was the only reconstruction made. Besides, I planted gardens and harvest crops from previously abandoned lands, but that is not interesting at all. Generally, it is the same house as any other has, except, maybe, its size, but it is not me who shall be blamed for, but the original builder.
Can you guarantee that Belarus within the post-Soviet space will remain the most Russia-friendly state?
It’s an absolutely incorrect question. We are not just staying, as we do now, the most Russia-friendly country. It’s a brotherly and the closest country for us. You can be sure. I state it in front of Western correspondents, so that Russian mass media wouldn’t show it in other way that we turn to this or that side. I see why it happens so. There are some forces in Russia, I have known them for ages, and they do not change their position, and they would like to spoil our relations. They did not succeed and they will not. We will not remain just friends. We are native people and native countries. We will always stick to this position. Of course, with our own point of view. For sure, someone initially did not like our position regarding Ukraine. So what? Now you also support it. If two brothers fall out, the third one will not pour oil on flames. He should do his best to eliminate a conflict, rather than a fight. And we occupy such position. In case we ever were in conflict with Russia — the Ukrainians would take exactly the same position. In case we ever faced a conflict with the Ukrainians — the Russians would take such position. We want peace, and the Russians for us have always been both economically and politically close. Whether others like it or not.
If possible, comment shortly on the prospects of the relations between Belarus and China.
We have never been in such warm, close and strategically important relations with the People’s Republic of China as we are now. We will be developing, as we have been, such relations. We will go only ahead, and build up reliable relations. Our diplomatic relations with China cost us a lot. We have been building them over twenty years. I was a deputy yet when I visited the People’s Republic of China for the first time. When I was a member of the Parliament I always used to say: look at China. The future is behind this country. Take the stenograph and look at what my opponents said. Communists said nothing while the opponents said: ‘No! We are not a banana republic, why should we look to China’. Today any country would be glad to be on good terms with China. We had built such relations before you became a real mighty empire.
As an indicator of our relations I can quote Xi Jinping, and we have known each other well long before he became president. We are good friends. He told me that China is ready to support Belarus in all directions and at any time. And he asked me whether I understood what he said. He said that China was ready to do everything required for Belarus, and support it no matter what happens. It cost a lot. China never talks to the wind. That is why we are on wonderful terms. And the economy today evolves around the Silk Road. We have already started implementing one of the directions proposed by Xi Jinping. One of the sectors is already being developed — the Great Stone Park. The great construction is under way. Here are the cutting-edge technologies and leading industries of the future generations. We invite all companies so that they come to this place with their industries. The only requirement is super-industry of tomorrow. We won’t compromise it. We have a lot of companies ready to come here.
Here is the result of our relations with the People’s Republic of China for today. And, taking the occasion, I would like to thank the PRC for their support and help in such a difficult time for Belarus as we have now. Credit, investment, and supply and procurement of our equipment and technology in China. For everything. We have no problems with China for today.
Give us, please, some explanations regarding Russian military base.
We don’t need any bases. Simply understand it. I don’t play with anyone and don’t comment the topic of the day. We and Russia are not just busy building the Union State, we are also in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. It’s a military and political union, like NATO. Within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation we have divided zones of responsibilities. We are in the West. We are immediately interconnected with the structures of the North Atlantic Alliance. It’s a fact. On this basis we don’t want to make war and always point to this, but we are ready to fight — we build some adequate policy. Due to this within the frameworks of the CSTO, and first of all, that of the Union State, we have concluded with Russia an agreement and a great number of contracts to amend it in terms of ensuring stable economic, political and military-political status of ours. We are here, on the western line, and together with the Russian Federation we have created the corresponding military alignment. Belarusian army is in its basis. 70 thousand soldiers for today. The army is constantly being modernised. We look at the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, earlier on — in Iraq. We look at the methods applied in war and we make the corresponding conclusions adjusting our Armed Forces to these conflicts. After Iraqi campaign we literally turned the development of our Armed Forces around. And two more times afterwards. The last time was after the Ukrainian conflict. We adjust our Armed Forces to possible conflict.
We and Russia have a contract on creation of an alignment in Western direction — in our zone of responsibility. The point is that in case there would be a conflict in the West, I hope it never happens, the Belarusian land will solve it primarily by its own Armed Forces. Literally in some days Russia supports us with its military forces. Thus, God save us from the war, but if we have to… The issue isn’t in bases, the issue is that we will fight to the bitter with the Russians and all those who want to support us here, in Belarus. Tell me, to ensure such conditions today, do we need some base? Particularly, the air force base. How planes relocated from Russia and placed here in an airdrome can help? We have plenty of them. If they were located in Pskov or Smolensk would it make great difference? No.
We don’t need it today. We need, although all the hot problems are solved, air defence. I’ve told it already. We had two weak points: Brest and near-Minsk territory. I put a question before the Russians: we have to protect them. Life in Russia was not that bad, but they did lack money. Then I asked them to sell S-300 from the reserve. We bought them. Our specialists modernised them, and we protected these points. But if Russia had supported us with rocketry, we would not have had to spend great money to create such systems as ‘Polonaise’. Range is about 200 kilometres. We did it without Russia. Today we work on other systems that will make war against Belarus impossible. Planes, even if it is a regiment, won’t cool down NATO, whereas missiles — indeed.
That is why air defence and mighty attack missile systems are aimed to protect Russia and Belarus. You should know, if you say that you want to make war in your territory or from Poland with Russia … Well, the Belarusians, we are going to make war and you have nothing to do with that — don’t you say that. We will launch the war against you immediately. We have an agreement about it with Russia. But we will be here in Belarus protecting the Belarusian land. In a few days we will be supported with planes, and non-ballistic missiles on the Russian part.
If Russia agrees to give us their regiment of planes, tomorrow the best pilots of the Belarusian Armed Forces will be there. Here we have wonderful higher educational establishments. We have wonderful practice. We prepare wonderful pilots.
I haven’t discussed with Putin this topic yet. This is the mass media that found out something, possibly, from the meeting of the Russian government, and threw it out for no good reason. We have discussed with Vladimir Putin this problem. If Russia sees, and we don’t see anything, Russia will tell us. Maybe we are mistaken, somehow. But, if the issue is in air forces, it will be placed unambiguously: please, give us these 24 planes. If you don’t want to give them to us, or sell — rent them. I have some doubt whether Russia will create this base. It’s huge money. If Russia won’t do it, I already mentioned it as well. The tenth plane modernised at our factory in November will go to the Armed Forces, with ten more next year. These are the same 20 planes that I once asked from Vladimir Putin.
But I don’t understand you: what happened to you? Let’s assume, such a base would be located in Belarus, what problem does it solve? What is the difference for Su–27 to take off from the airdrome in Bobruisk or from Pskov or Smolensk or even from Moscow? Absolutely no. 500 kilometres for such a plane is not a distance. Simply correspondents caught it and started kicking about it in mass media frightening the people. Don’t be afraid. Here’s my honest sincere position.
What is the future of the socio-political life in case of your election?
Today the meetings are conducted by those who can organise these meetings. Nobody hinders anybody. If Korotkevich, Gaidukevich, Ulakhovich can organise meetings, they can do it. We didn’t hinder anybody. Even when yesterday some people went to the streets in violation of the law, there were no militiamen there. This was my requirement. Not to touch them before the elections. We’ll see what conclusions will be made by the observers here. ODIHR, OSCE… We allowed all those willing to come. A thousand of them came from abroad. I prohibited any movements even where the laws were infringed. But I want to say: the elections are over at 20.00. Begin to live by the law. We won’t let either of them or anybody else to destabilise the situation.
You should understand that I’m worried not by this. I said long ago: we know all the oppositionists by name. There are 400 of them with their adherents in our country, from 7 million voters. What is it? It is a drop in the bucket. There are also onlookers who usually follow them, but nobody understands what is going on behind these oppositionists’ back…
I say one more time: the elections are over at 20.00. I advise to observe the laws. Not because we are afraid of these 400 people. We are concerned about those onlookers who usually gather around. And it puts me on the alert — I told the Ukrainians for a reason: stop sending guerrillas. We detain at the border hundreds of them, and they can’t explain why they go here. They simply didn’t think that Lukashenko would be able to close the border. But we closed it. We had to send back lots of them. But if they had combat weapon, we detained them. You simply don’t know it when you walk along the streets.
In the TV spot these events were very correctly linked with those when the garnet exploded at the Verkhovna Rada. People died. Who bore responsibility for it? That’s why resume the lawful course…
To conduct the campaigns officially is not a problem. We have specified places, as in Great Britain. If you want, let’s look at these places once again. If you want — gather. I will welcome it. Let them gather, discuss problems, criticise the authority and become the opposition. If you continue to live on foreign grants, we won’t take this money away, I promise, but we will tell people on whose money and which propaganda you carry on. Everything will be honest — I guarantee. If you don’t cross the line, Rubicon, we will never catch, whack anybody, as in other states, I promise it. As soon as you cross some Rubicon, which is accepted in the society, you know what will be done.
It was declared that sanctions against Belarus will be put on hold. What is your attitude towards it?
You should be glad that sanctions will be put on hold. These sanctions are not against Lukashenko, they are against the state, against Belarusian people. You shall be glad. Then why are you sad? They [the West] became convinced that the sanctions are to the detriment. Belarus is a decent state. We didn’t close the transit for the economy of the West, as was demanded from us. We didn’t do what we could do in the economy. We didn’t make the fur fly and complicate the situation in Ukraine. They understood that we are a normal state. Normal people live here. We did everything what they wanted.
Taking into account the crisis in the Belarusian economy, maybe, it would be easier to cancel the elections?
Who told you that we have such a crisis that we should cancel the elections? You would be glad if the elections were cancelled. Maybe, not you specifically, but in Poland there would be many people who would rub hands and be glad if the elections were cancelled. We can’t bring you such joy. We are a democratic state and we conduct these elections. It is the main thing. ‘Demos’ means people while ‘kratos’ stands for power. You know it better than me. That’s why today people define their authority. You know the powers of the President in Belarus. They are completely different than in Poland. That’s why these elections are very important. The people will make up their mind. It is the right of the people. That’s why we can’t bring joy to separate forces in Poland.
You should also understand one simple thing: why do you look at these elections too simplistically? At first, it is very important which background the winner will have after these elections. As for me, it will be bad if this time fewer people will vote for me in comparison with the previous time. It means that people start to leave me and some amount is not glad with my politics. If Lukashenko wins, for me it is very important to preserve what was in the last elections.
Secondly, it is very important for Poland, for Russia, for the world community, the European Union, America, which result any president will have after these elections. With whom they will talk: with a person, who has the overwhelming support of the Belarusian people or who has slightly passed this plank. As coming from the opposition in the first elections, Lukashenko got, I think, 83 percent of votes in the second round. I preserved this level. It makes two thirds of the population. It is a strong support. And whether we want it or not, I also, when carry on a conversation with some president, always bear in mind how many people supported him. It is also important.
Meanwhile, it’s not the main thing. If Lukashenko is elected, the life doesn’t stop on it. I must, on the basis of what we have, proceed with very fast movement to reaching the normal level of Belarus’ development. This is the main thing for me. I must ensure people’s safety. If someone else was elected, something would be forgiven in the beginning. Nothing will be forgiven to me: neither payments, nor the economy, nor the safety, nor the defence, nothing. I will be asked at once: where have you been all these years? That’s why I live by these questions and not by the thing whether to cancel the elections or not. To put it mildly, it is a very unexpected question for me.
You said that the elections should be a holiday. So, what would you wish to people for the holiday, to live wealthy and happily?
If we work, we will have everything. Today there is everything in Belarus to live normally. But before you demand something from me or somebody from people, look inside yourself. Are you doing everything to live normally? If you slave away diligently day by day, if you work hard and don’t have, for example, a salary, there is something wrong about it. It means that something shall be sought in the authority. If you don’t work hard enough and want to live like in the West, will we live normally? That’s why before demanding anything from the authority, look first at yourself.
And to wish… I can’t wish anything to my people, they have everything. They are talented, wise. There is everything. There is one thing that I want to wish — it is health. The rest will be bought. Earned. We can do it.
What is your attitude to the fact that one of the candidates is a woman?
I’m very glad about it. It is normal. I watched, yes — an oppositionist. But she doesn’t shout ‘Go to the square’, doesn’t encourage to break, to destroy and so on. She is a rather sane, normal person. She has her own understanding, like Alexievich. At that, a more deep understanding. So what? How many thousands of people in Belarus have their own understanding? Including the oppositional one. So, will I fight against them? No. It is their right. I must dissuade them. Don’t be in a hurry; the life will show who was right. For example, in 2010, Maidan was prepared for us. You didn’t hear when I said that Statkevich was governed from Kiev at that time. Go to the premier’s seat and govern. He says: how can one sit, if he is not admitted? And they started to break the doors, and there are a lot of examples. I don’t want to rake up. Maidan was prepared for us. I knew to what it could lead and assumed the corresponding measures without garnets, without tear-gas, without water jets. Right? Yes! We calmly put them back. And if we didn’t do it?
Then they didn’t manage to do it. They tried one more time — some claps, chuckles through the Internet — they didn’t succeed. Ukraine was broken… At last do you now understand that Lukashenko was right? The elections will show: right or not.
That’s why before you think about something private, work off the money on the West, you should think that we live in a concrete country and what is more important for it. I speak about the future and absolutely don’t bother about the present. We live in a peaceful normal country. It will be such in future as well.