It happened to be so that during Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to St. Petersburg a terrorist act occurred in the underground of this city. It seemed that the two presidents won’t again agree on some issues after the news on the tragedy. However, it turned out to be different. President Lukashenko gave an interview to the TV and radio company Mir on the negotiations with Vladimir Putin.
Alexander Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus:
You know that there were many disagreements in the relations of Russia and Belarus concerning certain issues. It strung up both me and President Putin. All of it was unpleasant, especially between our two countries. We got ready for this meeting. And it happened to be so that a terrorist act was committed at the same time. And all these problems we had a couple of months ago (we were full of determination to debate on some issues and solve the problems) receded into the background. We understood the real value of life.
What are debates over oil, gas and so on, when a terrorist act like this suddenly happens before you, and people die whom we must protect? The security issues were planned as the major ones, the questions of defense were also planned as major ones, and these issues came to the foreground in the negotiations with President Putin.
No matter how badly we are tousled, criticized, especially by the West, I will begin with the defense issue. For some reason many have concentrated on the military exercises Zapad-2017, which will be held in Belarus. However, these are not the first military exercises; we conduct them in turns within the framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, because we have a joint military group in this direction. It was established upon my initiative (it was created a long time ago, before the current events coming from NATO in Europe).
And then we agreed with President Putin that we will in turns (in two years) conduct these “hot” military exercises, with munitions and fire. Why are you so excited? These are ordinary military exercises, just like before. I invited all the wishing to these exercises, including the representatives of NATO.
Today I had a letter from a group of US Congressmen, including the famous McCain, who is searching for democracy in Belarus ( it was either somebody detained in Belarus and so on), they touched upon Belarus’s actions, actions of Belarus and Russia, within the Union, including in Belarus and the including the defense issue.
I wrote a response to him. I will find something to respond. First of all they should have a look at their democracy in Western countries (not so long ago they bombed, poisoned, and used water guns and batons). In Brussels, London, Paris, and in Germany. What will be next, a bulwark of democracy? Have a look what was happening after and during the elections of Donald Trump in the US. That is why I am giving them a hint that they first need to have a look at this democracy, At least nobody used tear gas in Belarus. However, their target is obvious.
And these people are touching upon the issue of the military exercises; it is some kind of danger for them. Isn’t it a danger for us, when NATO activated its positions by Belarus’ borders (Russians like to say that it is by their borders, if it is by Kaliningrad region, the yes, but it is all happening by Belarus’s borders primarily)?
Our opinions together with President Putin were absolutely synonymous concerning security at the meeting. I won’t keep it a secret that we also discussed our internal security, especially on the background of the terrorist act in St. Petersburg. It actually exacerbated this issue at the negotiations. We understood that we must defend the independence of our states by all means, our mutual Motherland, which we formed and trying to establish within the framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. And nothing will stop us, when defending our people and our independence.
The second lot of issues was economy questions, concerning oil and gas disagreements, as the mass media covered it, the question of industrial policy, the issue of agriculture development and cooperation of Belarus and Russia in this sector, and so on and so forth.
As for the agriculture sector, by the way, Belarus has practically no problems, including food supply, especially to the Russian Federation.
For instance, Russia today has a deficit of dairy products. As many as seven million tons of milk. Belarus supplies Russia with four million tons of milk. When there are three million tons, the open market doesn’t close, when it needs to be, so that prices don’t jump up and down. I asked President Putin directly why Russia blocks the Belarusian food supply. The same is happening with meat products. Is Belarus provoking competition for the Russian plants or what? Practically it isn’t so because the market is open. The fact that Belarus has lower prices and higher product quality is not a reason to snub Belarus and not let us to the market.
Work needs to be done in Russia, to produce goods which are nitrates free, supposing these products need refining at modern dairy and meat processing plants and so on and so forth, then the market will receive quality products. Taking into consideration the prices as well. It is not the case when you can cash in on the purses and pockets of Russia. Belarusian products are not so much premium class products, but re products for ordinary people in ordinary shops. Despite the fact that Belarus produces premium class products, we mostly export the goods to the Russian Federation; there is a big demand for them, for ordinary people, for the middle class, as Russians like to say, for workers, peasants. And they like these products, And we have our doors open, come and check we have nothing to hide, because the dairy and meet processing industries, and the agricultural processing industry as a hole, have been brought into compliance with world standards. Belarus was welcomed by the European market; they came to Belarus, checked and said that they didn’t expect that Belarus had such a high level. We export to Europe; they are very scrupulous about choosing this kind of products. Belarus exports to Europe but Russia started to stay behind.
However, in connection with this issue we moved onto the next issues. I showed President Putin who is making money out of these sanctioned goods (for what we are always told that these are Polish apples, this is German or Dutch oil). First they should find out who is bringing these products and what Belarus can do in this situation. Products from any country can be imported to Belarus. From any! It is not the Belarusians who are doing it, but it turned out that bandits from the big road are doing it, Russian bandits. And I showed my cards to President Putin. In the nearest time we are going to undertake a system of measures, we have agreed on this, in order to prevent it all. However, I am saying once again, don’t snub Belarus, if there are members of parliament in Russia who are trying to decrease the level of competition, they start snubbing Belarus. It won’t work, we will respond adequately.
As for the industrial sector Belarus and Russia need to move towards cooperation. However, it should be done orderly, fairly, not like “give this plant to us and forget about it”. Why act this way? Belarus is not going to give away anything to anyone. If you want to participate in privatization, then the price is known, pay money and come, we have nothing against, the main thing is not to throw people out into the streets from these plants and so that this plant is modernized and developed.
Belarus and Russia have also agreed on the issue of supplying oil to the territory of Belarus. As many as 24 million tons. The fact that Belarus pays a decent amount of money for gas is well known. We found a solution to this problem. Russia will compensate Belarus the gap between the current price and the real price by means of oil, the reexport of oil (Russia will give Belarus millions of tons of oil, they let us sell it and keep the tariff rate). In this way Belarus got lower prices for natural gas.
The prices on oil today are fair, this is where we have no problems and there will be no problems. In the nearest future we are finalizing the modernization of our oil refineries, though they are at a high level now, but we will finish it, which means 95% of light oil products, then the question of oil will become irrelevant by itself, Belarus will be able to buy oil from any market, process it in Belarus and make a corresponding profit. Russians understand it as well.