In Europe, we have one emerging international crisis which has so far not received the media attention it deserves. The tendency of Russia to use raw material supplies (oil and gas) as a political weapon is a well-known and documented phenomenon in Ukraine and the Baltic States. Now the former “big brother” is using financial blackmail against Belarus, where the autocratic dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka refuses to follow his master’s voice.
The Belarusian dictator has given an interview to “Izvestiya” and “Zavtra” newspapers, and “Rossiyskaya Federatsiya segodnya” and “Soyuznoe gosudarstvo” magazines. However, this interview has not been published in Russia yet. Today the official organ of Lukashenka’s administration, “Sovetskaya Belorussiya”, has published from this interview. Charter’97 presents the most interesting quotes.
“Allies” have deceived
“We have been building our relations with the Russian Federation seriously. Very seriously. Russia looks simply pale against this background… I would like to mention one fact. We held a referendum, a nation-wide referendum on the “union” of Belarus and Russia. It was not easy for us then. All that “nationalistic” hysteria, all this frenzy was still alive then, kind of “we can live here, by ourselves, and everything would be fine”. Certainly, by my nature and capabilities under the constitution I could define how to build relations with the Russian Federation even without a referendum. But I wanted to show the whole world, Russians and our people, what the real state of the Belarusian society is. And I asked people to come to the referendum. And then I was asked everywhere, what was my position. I wasn’t concealing it at all. My position is unshakable. But Russia had to yield in some aspects. In which aspects? You have gas, oil, nuclear weapons and other things. Russia is a huge country, it’s it resources, and it has certain gainings from that. Now they have imposed such tariffs that Belarusians selling their tractor to Kazakhstan have to pay one more cost of the tractor,” the Belarusian leader stated.
He has also noted that “as soon as Putin took office of the president for the first time, his first act was exchange of ratification instruments”.
“It means that Mr Putin took for granted that Agreement prepared by us with the previous president of Russia, and undertook to adhere to it… take this agreement and look through it, read it, there is almost everything in it that should be in a constitution. Everything is defined: spheres under the jurisdiction of the “union state”, and spheres of the parts of this “union state” Russia and Belarus, and so on, and so forth. And it was written in the end that we should hold referenda in Belarus and Russia simultaneously, and to approve the Constitution of our future “union state” at a referendum. What’s bad in that? There is nothing bad in it. And that Constitution would define everything: spheres of jurisdiction were to be allocated, and it is allocated in the Agreement now too, and so secret international agreements have priority over internal legislation… It was to include the single currency, government organs, and spheres of authority, that is, everything that should be in a constitution. We were to hold that in the beginning of the century. Why haven’t we done that? You think that Belarus didn’t want it, or Lukashenka was the worst enemy of integration? No, Russia didn’t want that…” the dictator reproached.
Speaking about the present, Lukashenka noted that actions of the Russian side are inconsistent with the idea of the “union state, common market, uniform business climate”. “Today’s Russia has in fact closed the market for Belarusian goods,” A. Lukashenka stated. – “Why have you closed your market for our tractors, cars, when a farmer says: give me a Belarusian MTZ tractor, we have been working at them all our life, and it suits us? Give it to us! And banks say to them: no, you won’t be granted a credit to buy Belarusian goods. The question suggests itself: why have you done that? Who needs such a “union state”?
The Belarusian ruler disclosed some details of the recent talks in Minsk: “Our Premier referred to facts when speaking to Putin. When we started to ask questions to him, I was sitting just like an arbiter. And two prime-ministers, the three of us there, were sitting and debating. And Sidorski asked [Putin]: “Why have you closed the market? Why have you disrupted goods exchanges between Belarus and Russia? Why have you banned deliveries of our goods?” and Putin answers: that’s not true. And Sidorski gives his information: “So-and-so governor said: “Putin said that if we would buy anything Belarusian, I’ll eat your head off”. The governor certainly has fear. He says: “We would take this with pleasure, but we want some approval signal, at least orally”. So two orders of the Ministry of Economic Development [of the Russian Federation] appeared, a decision of the government and through banks it was said in fact that if you want to buy something in our country, you won’t be given a loan in Russia. That’s all. They seem not to prohibit anything: okay, bring and sell. But the scheme “I take a loan, buy and then reimburse” has been violated.
The Belarusian side is also puzzled by the present situation with supply of provisions. “They also want to limit deliveries of cheap food agricultural production, and they have found motivation, that we are supporting the agriculture in Belarus, so our prices are lower,” Lukashenka noted. “Well, you could support agriculture in Russia too. We are not hiding”.
Lukashenka stated that protectionism in Russian market exists: “Your prices for sugar went up by almost 40% recently. When I read that, I was shocked. Guys, it’s a crime against your own nation. Why have you closed your market for our sugar? Why? If there was enough sugar in the market, the price would be different… Today we have lost half of the market of the Russian Federation. If it were not for the dictatorship in Belarus, we would have to close tow plants in Belarus. Recently I had to take truly administrative measures: I invited the government and said: “If you won’t sell sugar, you will lose your job”. We have found other markets. We have sold this sugar… What for have I given this example? For you to understand that the same happens in all positions vitally important for our country. In this way we have been pushed out from the Russian market and made to sell in other markets… Well, it wouldn’t be so hurtful if you had your own surplus of goods. But you didn’t have ones!”
About “Eastern Partnership”
Representatives of Russian media asked Lukashenka to explain Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership Program of the European Union and to comment on concerns of some Russian politicians and political analysts that Belarus allegedly has chosen the Western direction.
“Somebody has said that Eastern Partnership is bad, it’s anti-Russian “Eastern Partnership”. I do not know. Maybe there are some intentions there. But I ask a question: today we trade with the European Union. 47% with you, I think, and45% or 43% with them… And we have external surplus there, can you imagine? We have minus with Russia, as energy resources imported by us, component parts, raw materials from Russia are very expensive for us. That is why we have negative trade balance with the Russian Federation. Russia does not want to balance it, even forcing us out from the market of the goods we export there. And you understand that we need not only selling the goods, but we are to earn Russian rubles. Then we are to convert them into dollars and buy oil and gas from you. If you would push us away from there, we won’t be able to pay. And once again the pipe could be shut off. You should understand, that’s the threat… to stop, freeze life here”.
At the same time Lukashenka underlined that Minsk does not view the Eastern Partnership as a substitution to the “union state” project. “When the question came up, Solana was here, we had discussions with him… and when I was asked about Russia and such, we argued and argued, and then I said: “Will you replace Russia for us?” – “No, no, no”. – “So why do you confront us with such a question?!” I asked a pragmatic question… “You won’t substitute for them. Moreover, I said, you should bear in mind that we are one nation. We think in the way Russians think. We live the way they live. We have the same values…” He understood that.”
About recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
To the question when recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Minsk could take place, Lukashenka said: “You say that it is a painful story and a sensitive question. But all leaders of Russia are saying to me: “It is unrelated. It would be good if you recognize them, and well and good if you won’t.” Firstly, it is not a question for Russia. We may recognize, or we may not recognize now, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. Comparing with the situation around Belarus it is not the main thing. But we understand that this recognition wouldn’t be superfluous for Russia. However, I often say that we have our own history of relations with these republics, primarily with Abkhazia. We have had almost no such relations with Ossetia, though we met with their people and so on. That’s my position… By the way, when we all gathered in the framework of the CIS, everybody said to Medvedev: “No, we have our own problems”. I was the last to deliver a speech, and I said: “If you do not want to recognize them, do not look for motivation under the table. You simply do not want, you fear and so on.” Ask Medvedev, ask him about my position. I told the Russian leadership in which way we are to solve this problem. They didn’t have more questions. However… It has come to a point where they arrived as said: if you recognize Abkhazia and Ossetia, $500 millions are yours. You know, we do not want to “sell” any questions and any positions. Moreover, we have agreed with the leader of Abkhazia Bagapsh, we met with Kokojty after that. They do not have to us. They understand our position”.
Grievance over non-granted loans
“They have given us… first a billion. You know, they did that grudgingly, and now in your mass media one can read: “These paupers go begging, we have a difficult situation here, and they are soliciting for money”. After reading that one does not want to live. I think: well, what do we need this billion for? We have devaluated the national currency by 20%, and we could have devaluated it by 21%, and thus we could find a way out,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka comments the problematic questions related to issuing Russian credits to Russia. “They offered 2 billions, and gave a billion. Then… one has to go to the Duma, we need to go there, but it’s so hard… I say: “Alright, ok”. I say that to Putin. Medvedev says: “No problem. We will help you again”. When the turn of the government comes, Putin says: “No, it’s too difficult”. “All right, Mr Putin, you shouldn’t give it if it’s hard”… We addressed the Duma, and they approved and gave $500 million. Now they promise to give the rest $500 in April. So mush time has passed… We have entered that in the budget, we hoped and asked nobody else for this money. «No, we won’t give”… We went to Chinese – [and the result is] $3 billion”.
Belarusians are to defend independence in arms
As said by Lukashenka, the idea which is popular in Russia that Belarus should become a part of the Russian Federation is supported by politicians who do not want to see possible dramatic consequences of such a decision.
“We, leaders, should figure out in advance consequences of that. Even me, for instance, adopt a decision, and what will happen tomorrow? Are there few conflicts in the Caucasus? Now Russia is “bombarded” for having suppressed, subdued in an imperial way, with arms… And what’s here? The Russian president says from this point of view: “Yes, you are absolutely right… It is absolutely detrimental for Russia.” On the other hand, our “frostbitten heads”, though there may be not many of them, 2, or say, 3%, but they are the most active and ambitious, far most crazy in any society. They are ready to launch “a war of national liberation”. They need a pretext. Now everybody is laughing at it. And you think they do not have with what to fight, don’t you? The next day they would be delivered that from Ukraine, the Baltic States, they mostly get everything from there, and they have channels from Poland. Arms and blasts will appear immediately, they will destabilize the situation, and many people in the society would think: “it’s our land, we won’t give it away to anyone,” and they would go, “it’s win all, or lose all”. They are the spitting image of Russians. Do you want one more Chechnya here? I do not want it”.
“10 millions of people who are standing like a shield in front of Moscow, – should it be for free?..”
“Speaking about defence: don’t you think this vector is not important for you? With the present position of Ukraine, the Baltic States and so on?” Lukashenka asked. “You have this as the only “window”, “balcony”… The balcony of “Bagration” operation has remained. Thousands of kilometres. It’s not little. Anyway you have to control this space. Even not for the sake of a war, but for knowing what’s going on. And look what they are doing near our borders… You say: “Near Russian borders”. It happens near our, Belarusian borders. But you are saying it correctly, that it’s a Russian interest. Planes are standing near the border. You should be taken there, and our border guards and intelligence would show you: all objects are pictured, including watch towers and the most modern systems of reconnaissance. They see everything up to the Kremlin. So don’t you need Belarus? Is it indifferent to you? It is important for you. Who is performing this function, an important function now? Belarus, its air defence, army and so on. Do you think they should do that for free? Do you believe that 10 millions of people who are forming a shield in front of Moscow now should be for free? It is beyond price… And I am said: “you know, we have calculated… 2 billions of loan [would be given to you]… Dear friends, over a year and a half you have pumped out 10 billion dollars from Belarus by having advanced gas prices thrice. And you have granted me 2 billions at crazy interest, while the IMF gave a credit which terms are three times more beneficial!”
Discussing the topic of defence, journalists asked Lukashenka how the creation of the Russian-Belarusian air defence is proceeding. Are there problems in this sphere?
“Yes, we have signed this agreement, and Russia was “crying blue murder”… We were warned by the US citizens and Europeans: air defence is the issue number one in our relations with Belarus. And then I said to Russian leaders, I must reveal a secret to you: “Well, why should we excite people? In fact, air defence is working in the interests of Russia now. All information… is received by Moscow in real time. Why should we need an Agreement or something like this? For a media hype or what? Let’s wait a little, while we are here.” “No, no!” But I promised, once I promised: “Okay, if you need it so much, we’ll sign it”. We have signed it. However, Europeans and Americans were distressed over that. And even after that the IMF granted us 2 billion dollars loan. Do you think it has happened without Americans’ participation? Americans are there. They “abstained” during the vote. They didn’t vote in favour. But they approved it and said: “The loan to Belarus should be granted. The situation there is difficult. We should grant it”.
About personal life: “In these 15 years I had 75 or 80 years of life”
And finally editors-in-chief asked the Belarusian dictator a few questions about his personal life. They asked whether he is a happy man.
“Extremely. I am a very happy man,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka said. “A great happiness fell to us to live in this time. And in this situation one can say the time has chosen us. On the other hand, I have experienced so many things over these 15 years, I have never had easy times in life. But I have experienced so many things over these 15 years, I can say one shouldn’t feel sorry for to me if I died. Over these 15 years I have lived all my 75, 80 or 90 years, I do not know how many I am destined to. I and my family wouldn’t have to feel upset… so on the one hand I am happy. And certainly if the country won’t collapse, I would be able to say that I have done something for these people and this country. I am saying that earnestly. And my happiness is in that”. After a while he added: “On the other hand, I have not seen anything good all this time. Absolutely nothing. I have nothing to say…”