The President of Belarus sent a letter of cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky with appreciation that an astronaut does not forget his roots. On Thursday, meeting with journalists from 46 regions of Russia, Lukashenko remarked that Novitsky is now a Russian citizen, but inside he's still a Belarusian man.
It is not only a cosmonaut that Belarus and Russia have in common. Both in history and today. There are also differences in views and assessments since we are sovereign states. But as the President said it's hard to name a country closer to Russia than Belarus. Therefore, it is important that Russians know how the neighboring country is developing and what its leadership thinks. This is why journalists from Russian regions are invited (since Moscow does not report that much about Belarus). Reporters from Russian regions discover Belarus with a genuine interest and write at least some good stuff about us. Yevgeny Pustovoy has the report.
The meeting of the Belarusian leader with Russian journalists of the Union State's media space is a good tradition. The format is a press conference but in fact this is a warm and friendly conversation, which took place for the thirteenth time, by the way.
Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus:
Here some Russia-oriented Belarusian citizens say that we focused on soft Belarusization. Look, should there be Germanization in Belarus? As for religion, there is one slogan - everyone will find his own way to his temple. We've recently opened even a mosque in Minsk. We with Mr Erdogan were at the opening of the mosque. We gave him the Koran. For the first time I saw that he had kissed it. And I was also given the same Koran. And what was I supposed to do? I also repeated the gesture. Someone criticized me on that. I am the President of a country where many thousands of Muslims live. We have perfect relationships with them, like with Catholics and the Orthodox.
At one of these meetings with the media, Alexander Lukashenko admitted that he once wanted to be a journalist but ended up as a leader of opinions even for those who are thousands of kilometers away from Belarus.
There's been a serious collapse in the Russian market, you devalued the national currency, considerably. In this regard, we lost about $3 billion. The only bright spot in all this is that we are still gaining in trade in physical volumes. But, unfortunately, we have not become richer because of this.
Conflicts arise in the supply of Belarusian products. Some say: 'We introduced an embargo, but Belarus exports shrimp or even some herring.' Listen, we have supplied you with shrimp and herring since the Soviet times.
Moreover, Belarus faces some limits from the nearby market. How about the EEU agreements in which Belarus and Russia took part?
You have KamAZ, we have MAZ. Our MAZ is not worse than KamAZ. Belarusians consume natural gas worth $280, while Russians worth $65. How to compete if there are unequal conditions for economic entities? This is a strong misalignment. Belarus' industry and agriculture is a huge piece that allows at least 10 million Russians to work.
One of the main themes of the dialogue is the same - hydrocarbons in exchange for large enterprises in Belarus. It is the Russian defense industry that needs them.
You have interest in these businesses, you want to buy them. I have an interest in oil production. Belarusians will understand if we exchange these enterprises for Bashneft shares. But until now, there has been no answer. So, I make a conclusion that they don't want it. We do not want anything for free. We can earn it all. You saw this in Belarus: our people can work. They have not been spoiled as in some countries.
Russian journalists were surprised by Belarus' utility bills. For example, utility prices in Minsk are two to three times cheaper than in regional centers of Russia, which is rich oil and gas. The cost of rent in the country is today under control of the President.
Another question from journalists was about Belarusian experience in fighting corruption.
The authorities must be solid as far as possible. Our officials cannot afford themselves or their families to show off. Like your races in Moscow, kids in Gelandewagens. If it happened in Belarus, we would punish them harshly.
In order to open a business, one needs to write a statement and put it on the table. We have a declarative principle of business registration. But we have very tough conditions. Very strict conditions of behavior of the businessman. We want to avoid oligarchic pretensions. Because people will not tolerate this.
Alexander Lukashenko also spoke on the US president Donald Trump.
This is a hard pro-American citizen. The slogan is to make America great. Do not be so happy. Syria and other issues still need to be resolved. It is necessary to create foundation at home, then it will be already easier to talk with America and with other countries.
No "color revolutions" will ever turn us over. But if we do not do this, our people will throw us down without any "color revolutions".
One question was about the Russian national hero - Belarusian sports official Fomochkin - and Belarus' overall stance on that situation at the Paralympics.
They hid a spare flag under their shirt, as in the days of the Great Patriotic War. It was a demonstration of our unity. Despite this is some minor symbol, it did sound. Not only was it pressure on Russia. Exactly the same pressure was on us in terms of doping. Where is it from? It is clear. And recently there has been a leak from WADA, which answers that question. It is necessary that it all should be more open, not what some three officials decide. Who are the judges?
The President commented on the most painful topic in the relations between Russia and Ukraine.
How could one spend so much money wanting a quarrel between our poeples. Of course, no one wants Russia's influence somewhere, in other parts of the planet. If necessary, Ukrainians, Russians trust us, the Belarusians. So you can use it. If two brothers are fighting, the third one should not take a knife. How did we, Slavs, do earlier in such cases? They fight, we intervene, we take them apart. It is necessary to use this principle here too. In Ukraine, there are many frightening that Belarus will ally with Russia in attacking Ukraine from the north. I will not go to Kiev on a tank. I'd rather embark on a tractor and ride there.
When asked about Belarusian goods, the President always asked representatives of each region to contact Belarusian enterprises directly and order any number of goods, without any intermediaries.
Belarus in the top five dairy producing states of the world, while Belarusians are among the most Internet dependent nations. For the first time, bloggers also were among the participants of the press tour.
I am not present in social networks and I don't allow my boy to do this.
He said: "I need to find information for school." I give him two minutes and then for an hour he can play [World of] Tanks. I am very jealous about the Internet, because for me the book, the printed word is holy.
When the "color revolutions" were ordered here via the Internet, many came to me and asked to close the Internet, but I said: "No, you go to these websites and fight with them with their own methods".
Alexander Lukashenko was also asked on his pets.
My boy has already brought home three cats. I also have 10 cows. Once I came and saw four newborn kittens. Where should I take them? I can't throw them out into the street. Two of them have already been taken, there are still two. We feed them and look after them. I have a lot of animals. Ostriches (three), Muscovy ducks, ducks, 25 geese (I give them to people for New Year), Chinese chickens, turkeys (10). There were 70 rabbits, now fewer, because we gave some to other people. I could not kill them, and I don't want my children to see that. Now I have 20 rabbits. 10 cows, 10 goats, 15 sheep, and probably 7 or 8 horses. Four dogs (two huskies, a Labrador and a German Shepherd Dog). All were given to me.
Such sentimental speeches close the gap and distance between regions. During this trip, the Russian journalists were shown the native village of the President.
I come there sometimes to calm down, spend a few hours. I can only do that in Alexandria, on the site where there is a small house, where my mother lived. Something has remained there perhaps. This is a land poured with my sweat. Because we lived with my mother, we had to work, there was no one in the village. I find some balance there. But for me, 3 or 4 hours is enough. When on business trips, or when I fly by, I always come there. This is very important. I can't just forget this heritage.