Union State: Viable or Doomed?
LUKASHENKO: ‘IN BELARUS, EVERYTHING IS BASED ON FAIRNESS.‘ ([No author indicated.] Sovetskaya Rossia, Sept. 28, 2019, p. 3. Condensed text:) Editors’ Note. – On Thursday [Sept. 26], Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko responded to questions from journalists of leading Ukrainian media outlets. Lukashenko often meets with the Russian press, especially regional outlets, in this format. This makes it possible to discuss the most important aspects of bilateral relations between countries and people. This was his first direct conversation with Ukrainian media. . . . The Belta news agency outlined the conversation, which lasted more than three hours. We are presenting the most important topics.
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On the transfer of power in Belarus.
Lukashenko stressed that he will remain president for as long as the people trust him, and he has the health and energy to do the job. “Only the people will choose our new president,” Lukashenko stated, adding that he is not considering any successors.
When asked whether an independent candidate like an actor could win the Belarussian presidential election, Lukashenko said the following: “We have an entirely different situation and a somewhat different reality [than in Ukraine, which recently elected an actor as president – Trans.]. We have a socially oriented economy and we are not going to divvy everything up and privatize it; we don’t have an oligarchy or oligarchic clans that would wield influence on the government or, God forbid, [the president].” In Belarus, everything is based on fairness, so in his opinion, such an option is hardly possible: “People are used to going off real life and seeing what [a person] is like. We don’t have a situation where the people could blindly vote for someone; that’s impossible.”
Belarus has no enemies and it can repel threats if necessary.
“We are building our military policy very carefully and are prepared to repel any threat. That is why our Army is not like Ukraine’s or Russia’s: We don’t have huge units that could form a front. We only have mobile units and territorial defense, where we can call up 500,000 reservists. We don’t have any potential adversaries yet, but if necessary, our mobile Armed Forces are ready to quickly respond to any threat. That is why we are focusing on mobile Armed Forces. We are producing equipment for them and have already started producing weapons.”
On Ukrainian-Russian relations.
Lukashenko believes that serious problems in relations between Ukraine and Russia appeared back under [former Ukrainian president] Viktor Yanukovich: “He was not anti-Ukrainian. He was somewhat indecisive, among other things. And the schism between Ukraine and Russia appeared under Yanukovich, when gas prices rose steeply. Up to $200 [per cubic meter], I think. I had a conversation with him about it. He was very upset with Russia and told me: ‘Listen, Sasha [short for Aleksandr – Trans.], why did they do this to us?’ This was not the first but a significant crack [in relations], when [the Ukrainian authorities] were very offended. Maybe that is what prompted him to veer sharply toward the West and the European Union, and to sign the [association agreement with the EU – Trans.]. Then [his regime] decided to backpedal and mess around. And they [the Ukrainian opposition – Trans.] took advantage of the situation.” . . .
On the Donetsk Basin conflict.
Belarus is ready to consider any requests to help resolve the conflict in Ukraine. According to [Lukashenko], it doesn’t matter what the peacekeepers and mediators [in the process] consider Belarus’s role to be: “What matters is that this is of value to you and others involved in this conflict. I will be honest: If this is of value to us, you and the Russians, in terms of Slavic unity; if you think that Belarussians could play a role and offer any help we can, then let us know – we are prepared to consider any requests.”
“We need to take any steps necessary to ensure that the war ends and this territory begins reintegration into Ukraine,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “I would do anything for this. Holding elections [in the territories not controlled by Ukraine]? Why not. Yes, the people there who are fighting for their piece of land, their family, as they say, need to be given guarantees. People need actions that would bring the desired peace and results. Forget all sorts of formulas [reference to the ‘Steinmeier formula,’ which calls for granting special status to the self-proclaimed republics – Trans.]. Sit down in Ukraine and invite those who want peace, including the Belarussians. We three Slavic nations must resolve this conflict, because it is our [common] home.”
On the possibility of war between Belarus and Ukraine.
Journalists asked whether it’s possible that Belarussian troops would ever incur into Ukrainian territory as part of a joint operation with Russia. “Troops can only appear there when ordered by the commander in chief. I have stated my position on the war in eastern Ukraine, except for certain nuances. As for participating in military operations so that you get [your soldiers] shipped back in coffins from [Belarus] – what kind of a president would I be? Don’t expect such dirty tricks from us. We cannot be the enemies of your people. And our entire leadership, including me as president who has a thousand times more authority than your president, would never go for that. Russia and Belarus do not have a common army. The Union State [of Russia and Belarus] has a joint armed forces grouping in the west that is staffed by the Belarussian Army of 75,000 troops. We are reducing it, perhaps bringing it down to 50,000. That is enough for us. The most important thing [is for us to have] weapons and mobility so that we can carry out defense operations on the territory of Belarus. God forbid, of course.”
“Russia does not need us to get involved in a fight. I am absolutely convinced that Russia would never go so far as to conquer Ukraine. Unless, of course, you start a war,” Lukashenko responded.
On the meeting between Zelensky and Trump.
“You say it was a heated day at the UN. [It was] a typical day. I have been in politics for a long time and have been to the UN often. It was a regular day, but you [journalists] made it heated. And in a good way. And the meeting between [Ukrainian President] Vladimir Zelensky and [US President] Donald Trump, in my view, was [organized] very well and smartly. But the UN has dozens of such hot spots that you create, except that they get less attention. Now these telephone conversations are fueling conspiracy theories. In short, it was two presidents getting to know each other face to face. In my opinion, it went well. They liked each other.”
On closing the Belarussian-Ukrainian border.
Belarus closed the border with Ukraine to prevent weapons from getting in, not people: “Decent Ukrainians will never have a problem crossing the Belarussian border. We had to reinforce our border primarily because of the weapons flowing into our country. Recently, there was [weapons] trafficking between Ukraine and Lithuania. Belarussians were involved and we stopped such weapons trafficking. It was customs officers who helped, actually, not border guards.”
On the Crimea.
When asked by a Ukrainian journalist whether Russia will return the Crimea to Ukraine, the Belarussian president said: “I don’t think so. I believe the Russian president when he says that the matter is closed for good. The careful and calm [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov says the same thing, along with the entire [Russian] leadership. A consensus has been formed in Russian society – there is no issue on which Russians support the authorities more than on the Crimea. There is no power that could force Russia to do that (return the Crimea). It is now Russian territory; that is how they see it. And I don’t think anything can be done about it. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. I don’t know what it would take to get Russia to give up the Crimea voluntarily.”
On the unification of Russia and Belarus as a means for Putin to remain in power.
“You know, it’s somehow too petty to just unite Belarus with Russia to extend [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] rule. Russia is a huge, powerful and rich country. If they really want to extend the rule of a single person***they will find a dozen various options.*** But I also know that President Putin has not made it his goal to retain power at any cost.
Drop all this apprehension and all this idle talk. It’s all naïve. It’s not for big politics – it’s only good as media fodder. But that is not [an option] for Putin or for myself, since we are talking about the long term and the existence of the Belarussian state.”
On relations with the West.
Belarus is not going to make an anti-Russian pact with the West: “That is our position. We alone are going to determine the nature of our relationship with Russia and China on one hand, and the EU and the US on the other. No American [officials] have ever take offense at that, not even high-ranking ones. On the contrary, many beat me to the punch in negotiations and publicly stated that Belarus will not be forced to choose; they want to use [Belarus] in the name of peace and stability in Eastern Europe, and they want to see a sovereign and independent Belarus.” . . .