President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukashenko,
Thank you for coming. We meet regularly, exchange information by telephone, and adjust our actions.
First of all, before we get down to our agenda, I would like to congratulate you on the successful referendum on amending your country’s constitution. I know that the turnout was high, and popular support across Belarus very solid.
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko: More than at the presidential elections, by the way, by 1.5 percent.
Vladimir Putin: Good. I believe the political process that you initiated, the dialogue that you have with your people is extremely important for the situation to remain sustainable and stable. This kind of situation, I mean stability and sustainability, is essential for economic development.
In this regard, I would like to note that last year, our mutual trade increased by more than a third, more than 34 percent, and now that the annual results are being summed up, this is becoming quite obvious.
The overall developments are positive. Of course, there are also problems caused by the current events, the restrictions and sanctions we all know of, and so on. But, as you and I have previously said, we have seen this before – attempts to limit our development, to contain it. Now they are being made on a larger scale; this much is obvious, of course. I am sure that we will get through the difficult period and, in fact, will gain more competencies, find more ways to feel independent and self-sufficient, and will ultimately benefit, as it happened in the previous years.
I will certainly update you on Ukrainian developments and, above all, the progress of the negotiations, which are now being held almost on a daily basis. There are certain positive shifts there, as our negotiators have reported to me. I will tell you about all this in greater detail.
Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, indeed, you and I communicate closely at all times. We had a premonition of hard times. I have told you over the phone more than once: the Russian Federation, and even more so Belarus, is always under sanctions, which have become more extensive today. However, we are already used to this, pardon my language, beastly Western behaviour. Why beastly? Because it is illegitimate, as they are fond of saying, and runs counter to international agreements and treaties, which they and we have joined, in part. So, once again, the third time round: this is just disgraceful from my point of view. I have already been through this, and you have had enough of it as well.
Here is my point. As I walked up to your office, the journalists hollered from a distance: “Will we survive the sanctions or not?” Listen, this is not the right approach to this matter. Today, sanctions represent an opportunity for us. I am a Soviet person, and you hail from the Soviet period as well, and you are well aware that we were always under sanctions, but we lived and moved forward notwithstanding. It is just that due to the current circumstances, which are not even related to sanctions, not enough time has passed, and our people are concerned. It is a good thing that people tend to realise over time what is really going on. It was not us who attacked them, not us, the armed forces of Ukraine started shooting when you and I were at your place two days before that.
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately.
Alexander Lukashenko: Yes, you and I were in a helicopter, as [we] received updates. They were the ones to start this whole thing. I will now show you the location, which they planned to use as a base to attack Belarus. If there had not been a preventive strike on the positions – four positions – six hours before the operation – I will show you the map that I brought with me – they would have attacked the troops of Belarus and Russia, which were conducting exercises. So, we did not unleash this war, our conscience is clear.
It is good that they started it. Biological weapons, the largest nuclear power plants – they were ready to blow that all up. We are witnessing what is going on in Chernobyl, you asked me to supply electricity …
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Alexander Lukashenko: …but they do not need it, do you see? They just do not need it. They do not care about what is happening there, and we used force to supply electricity to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as promised.
Vladimir Putin: I am aware of that, thank you.
Alexander Lukashenko: These are their goals. But people are gradually beginning to understand what is what and who is right. Trust me, had we not done this 24 hours in advance, we would have drained this cup to the dregs with enormous losses several days later.
I will say it again: they were going to strike not only at Donbass but had also prepared their positions for a strike against Belarus. And today – as I said yesterday – these foreign mercenaries are walking along the Belarus border to the Chernobyl plant. There are three points here. They want to cut off the routes of moving Russian troops and stab them in the back, as I said. This is the first point. Secondly, they want to attack the positions of the troops that remained in Belarus after their joint exercises with Russia. And they still hope to draw us directly into this slaughter to make us leave the western section unprotected. They are not that simple. We still have to figure out what they want to do in Chernobyl.
So, we have no need to justify ourselves before anyone.
Vladimir Putin: No one is justifying themselves.
Alexander Lukashenko: You – yes. I see that some of our or your people tend to say that they did something wrong. They would have drained more from this cup than in the middle of the last century when the fascists were moving towards us.
So, this is a time of opportunity. If we find our bearings, believe me, in six months or by the end of the year people will forget this happened, in terms of the economy. And we should not say “we will survive the sanctions” or “we will not survive the sanctions.” Look, we have survived them so many times. We must develop our economy. We can do without them. We have everything we need for normal life and work.
I have a suggestion. We have always helped our allies. We helped the Kazakhs, and others as well. You opened your market to some, I will not mention their names because they will take offense. Well, we have to meet somehow in the CSTO and the EAEU. We must unite. Everyone says we must be together. Let us get together. And, believe me, if we add these markets to our cooperation we will forget about the sanctions in a month. So, the CSTO and the EAEU. I am making a proposal. After all, I do have the right to make a proposal…
Vladimir Putin: Of course.
Alexander Lukashenko: I think you will support me. We need to gather around the table in Moscow, sit at the negotiating table and come to terms: we sell this to you and you sell this to us, and build our common economic policy on this foundation.
This is why I came to Moscow today in a normal mood. I am confident we can do it better than we did after collapse of the USSR, and even in the USSR. This is not a situation where we should bother and get worried about some event. We simply need the time – a lot can be seen from a distance.
Vladimir Putin: You are absolutely right. The Soviet Union indeed always lived in conditions of sanctions but developed and achieved enormous success. I said yesterday: even after 1990, the sanctions imposed on the USSR were retained and then extended to the new, recent times. These are CoCom lists, restrictions on high technology. This is how it was done.
Now a massive blow is being dealt at the economy. But practice over the past few years shows that wherever the West imposed restrictions on us, we acquired new competences and restored our old skills at new technological levels. And all this is working. We have of course become stronger in this respect, you are right. This is indeed a time of opportunity when we must strengthen our technological and economic sovereignty.
This is why we are meeting today, we will talk about everything in more detail.