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Diplomacy
Taiwan, EU and China Flag

The post-election Taiwanese economy: decisions ahead and takeaways for the European Union

by Alicia García-Herrero

The EU should try to attract more business from Taiwan, though Taiwan’s January 2024 election hasn’t made the job easier Taiwan’s economy has transformed since 2016 under the leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In particular, the Taiwanese economy has diversified away from mainland China, while reliance on semiconductors is now even more acute than eight years ago. In elections in January, the DPP won the presidency for a third term but lost overall control of Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan. In contrast to the previous two terms, the DPP therefore needs to agree policy, including economic policy, with other parties. this could signal a softer approach in relation to the continuation of diversification away from the mainland. Ongoing diversification Mainland China remains Taiwan’s biggest export and investment destination, despite the share of Taiwan’s exports that go to China reducing from 40 percent on average between 2016 and 2019 to 35 percent in 2023 (Figure 1). This has happened even though Taiwan signed a free trade agreement with mainland China in 2010 – the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) – which at the time led to an increase in Taiwanese exports to the mainland. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 also triggered a sharp increase as the rest of the world entered a deep recession, but the trend has not lasted. Since 2021, the share of Taiwanese exports going to the mainland has dropped significantly, influenced by US export controls on high-end semiconductors, with a clear knock-on effect on Taiwanese exporters.   Taiwanese FDI into mainland China has also shrunk rapidly, from 65 percent of total Taiwanese FDI on average from 2008-2016 to 34 percent on average from 2017-2023 (Figure 2). The difference between these periods is that in the former, Taiwan was governed by the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party), which favours closer relations with the mainland, while in the latter period the DPP was in charge. There are both geopolitical and economic reasons for mainland China’s falling share of Taiwanese FDI. First, the ECFA trade and investment agreement, reached under the first term of KMT President Ma Ying-jeou, was not extended when a new round of negotiations started in 2012, to include technological cooperation, finance and people-to-people exchanges. A broader economic agreement between Taiwan and the mainland, mostly focusing on services – the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) – fell victim to lack of consensus among Taiwan’s main political parties, increased tensions in the Taiwan Straits and student protests in Taiwan (the so-called Sunflower movement) in 2014.1 Second, with the DPP victory in 2016, the new Southbound Policy 2 was launched, offering incentives for Taiwanese companies investing in 18 Asian countries, including ASEAN 3, India and other South Asian and Australasian nations. In addition, rising labour costs in mainland China, the ongoing trade war between the US and China, an increased regulatory burden in the mainland and political tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait also pushed Taiwanese businesses to look elsewhere to invest. -    The new political reality and geographical diversification While the election-winning DPP wants to see further diversification away from the mainland, the more pro-China party, the KMT, wants reinforced economic relations with China.4 Because of the now-hung parliament, the DPP will need to take some of the KMT’s wishes into account it wants pass new rules, including those related to geographical diversification. Beyond the two parties’ preferences, two other important issues also need to be factored in. First, geographical diversification requires open markets but Taiwan is increasingly unable to open any market through trade or investment deals. Taiwan has spent the last eight years negotiating bilateral deals with its closest allies, Japan and the US, but the DPP administration has not even been able to complete these. Incoming President Lai has said that Taiwan should continue to push to be part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which it applied in September 2021, but the reality is that Taiwan’s application has little hope of success. China officially applied to be a member of the CPTTP only a couple of days before Taiwan. Since then, the United Kingdom has become a member of CPTTP, but the negotiation processes with Taiwan and mainland China have not started. Australian’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has expressed severe doubts about Taiwan’s ability to become member of CPTTP because of lack of international recognition of it as a nation-state.5 Second, while the DPP is likely to continue to offer more fiscal incentives to promote diversification in Southeast Asia and India (under the Southbound Policy), the fastest-growing destination for both exports and foreign direct investment from Taiwan is the United States, followed by Japan. This can be explained by the ongoing artificial intelligence revolution, which needs semiconductors, and the decisions of some key Taiwanese chip companies (especially TSCM) to open factories overseas for chip production, with the US and Japan as the most important destinations. In other words, the DPP’s push for geographical diversification might not be the main reason why diversification has happened; rather, it has been driven by market forces and business opportunities. This also means that the KMT push to maintain – if not deepen – economic ties with mainland China might not succeed unless China’s currently underwhelming economic performance turns around. Implications for the European Union So far, the EU has benefitted little from Taiwan’s trade and investment diversification, at least when compared to the US and the rest of Asia. The EU’s export share into Taiwan has remained practically stagnant (while the US has doubled its share), notwithstanding a large increase in exports from the Netherlands for a single item – ASML’s lithography machines for chip production. The EU lacks a trade or investment deal with Taiwan, but so do some of Taiwan’s other trading partners, including the US. Considering that the EU is the largest foreign direct investor in Taiwan, the question arises of whether the EU should do more to foster more bilateral economic relations. The gains could be substantial, especially from inbound FDI as Taiwanese investment focuses on high-end manufacturing. There has been some movement. A €5 billion investment in France by a Taiwanese company (ProLogium) was announced in May 2023 to build a battery factory 6 . TSMC announced in August 2023 a €4.5 billion investment in a semiconductor factory in Germany 7 . But for the EU to catch up with Japan and the US as a recipient of outbound FDI from Taiwan, the result of Taiwan’s elections could be an obstacle. This is because the DPP will have less control of the economic agenda because it does not control the Legislative Yuan. The close-to-impossible negotiation of a trade and investment deal between the EU and Taiwan – as shown by Taiwan’s difficulties in relation to Japan, the US and the CPTTP – does not point to any improvement in the institutional framework for economic relations to improve. The question, then, is what can the EU offer to attract high-end foreign direct investment from Taiwan? Subsidies to attract semiconductor factories cannot be the only answer, given the very large amounts needed and the pressure such subsidies put on EU member states’ already stretched finances (Legarda and Vasselier, 2023). Working with business associations and chambers should be a key driving force to improve business relations between Taiwan and the EU, especially considering that the EU is the largest foreign foreign direct investor in Taiwan, while Taiwanese companies have been absent from the EU single market until recently. Overall, the US and the rest of Asia have been the main winners from Taiwan’s rapid diversification of its economy away from mainland China. The EU, which is lagging, should work to enhance its economic exchanges with Taiwan. Hopefully the January 2024 election results will facilitate this. Most importantly, the EU should aim to attract more high-tech FDI from Taiwan. Unfortunately, a better institutional framework through a trade/investment deal seems highly unlikely, for geopolitical reasons. This puts all the burden on chambers of commerce and other forums to improve business relations. References 1- The Sunflower Movement was a student-led protest that occuped Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan to put pressure on the KMT government against signing a second cooperation deal with mainland China. See Ho (2018). 2- See the New Southbound Policy portal at https://nspp.mofa.gov.tw/nsppe/. 3- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 4- Alicia García-Herrero, ‘Taiwan’s future economic direction hinges on the election outcome’, First glance, 12 January 2024, Bruegel https://www.bruegel.org/first-glance/taiwans-future-economic-direction-… 5- Claudia Long and Stephen Dziedzic, ‘Albanese says Australia is unlikely to support Taiwan 6- France24, ‘Taiwanese battery maker Prologium to invest €5 billion in French factory’, 12 May 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20230512-taiwanese-battery-maker-pro…. 7- DW, ‘Taiwan’s TSMC to build semiconductor factory in Germany’, 8 August 2023, https://www.dw.com/en/taiwans-tsmc-to-build-semiconductor-factory-in-ge…. Ho, M.-S. (2018) ‘The Activist Legacy of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 August, available at https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/08/02/activist-legacy-of-taiwan-s-sunflower-movement-pub-76966 Legarda, H. and A. Vasselier (2023) ‘Navigating Taiwan relations in 2024: Practical considerations for European policy makers’, China Horizons, 21 December, available at https://chinahorizons.eu/our-research/policy-briefs/278-navigating-taiwan-relations-in-2024-practical-considerations-for-european-policy-makers

Energy & Economics
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Overcoming an EU-China trade and trust deficit

by Shairee Malhotra

Beijing seeks normalisation of ties with Europe; however, for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences On 7-8 December, European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will be in Beijing for the 24th European Union (EU)-China summit, but the first in-person one in four years, taking place at a critical juncture in EU-China ties. At the previous EU-China virtual summit in April 2022, the Ukraine conflict was the primary talking point for the Europeans and other issues such as climate and economics were relegated to the back burner. This time, the focus is likely to be economics. A relatively constructive meeting between United States (US) President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on 15 November, which led to the resumption of US-China high-level military dialogue and Xi’s assurances on Taiwan, has contributed to paving the way for the EU to focus on ironing out economic irritants. Deficits, dependencies and de-risking With daily EU-China trade amounting to 2.2 billion euros, the EU is concerned about its widening goods trade deficit with China—400 billion euros in 2022—referred to by EU Ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo, as the “highest in the history of mankind”. In the context of China’s restrictive environment for foreign companies, the EU is keen for a level playing field and greater reciprocity in trade. Another major area of contention is Chinese overcapacity through subsidies in key industrial export sectors such as electric vehicles (EVs) that are undermining European automotive industries. The European Commission has already launched a probe for the EVs sector and is now considering other major sectors including wind energy and medical devices. In addition, Europe is heavily dependent on critical raw materials such as lithium and gallium from China, which are intrinsic to its green transition. While over 90 percent of the EU’s supply of raw materials comes from China, the EU aims to address this dependency through its Critical Raw Materials Act. Factors such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, human rights violations in Xinjiang, and pandemic-era supply chain disruptions have deteriorated European perceptions of China. The downswing in EU-China ties was further accentuated by Beijing’s posture in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the failure of European leaders to coax China to positively use its influence with the EU’s most immediate security threat, Moscow. Thus, a major trust deficit has accompanied the trade deficit. On 6 November, only a month before the summit, von der Leyen in her speech warned against “China’s changing global posture” with its “strong push to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China”. While acknowledging China as Europe’s most important trading partner, she emphasised the “explicit element of rivalry” in the relationship. Another dialogue of the deaf? The EU and its member states are recalibrating their China policies, with countries such as Germany even releasing China-specific documents outlining their approach. The EU’s “de-risking” strategy aims to reduce dependencies in critical sectors, and through an expansion of its policy toolbox, the Union is implementing a range of measures including greater scrutiny of inbound-outbound foreign investments, anti-coercion instruments, and export controls for dual-purpose technologies. In this context of an evolving European approach, the upcoming summit is a much-anticipated one for EU-China watchers. Despite the strain in relations, high-level diplomatic exchanges have continued in full swing, many of which, such as von der Leyen’s visit to China in April, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis’s visit in September, and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s visit in October were conducted in preparation for this summit. A sluggish Chinese economy gives Europe room to wield its economic leverage. However, grey areas in Europe’s China policy remain, especially with regard to the implementation of measures and the need for more effective coordination, often compromised by a lack of unity amongst member states and tendencies of leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to prioritise business interests over all else. Thus, straddling the fine balance between economic opportunities and security risks will continue to be a test for how Europe manages its interdependence with the lucrative Chinese market. Previous EU-China summits have not produced a joint statement, and according to sources, this summit is unlikely to produce one as well. Yet it is an opportunity for the EU to put forward unresolved concerns and forge some common ground. Without concrete deliverables, the upcoming summit risks being another “dialogue of the deaf” as Borrell famously described the previous one. Amidst renewed transatlantic solidarity, Beijing’s rhetoric indicates that it seeks normalisation of ties with Europe and a more independent European policy towards China away from Washington’s influence. Yet for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences.

Diplomacy
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Address by the President of the Republic Zoran Milanović at the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

by Zoran Milanović

Mr. Vice President, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, It is my particular honour to address this august body. I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate you on being elected to your esteemed position and I wish you much success in your work during these challenging times. The world we live in today requires joint, global and concerted efforts as a key to success in addressing serious global crises. We strongly believe that we have to strengthen the multilateral system based on international law, and make sure it is effective and fair, able to endure and deliver results that will serve to achieve our common goals, commitments and a better future for the people and planet. We need to safeguard the role of the United Nations as the centre of global cooperation. We are also hopeful that genuine efforts will be invested in the reform of the Security Council, our main instrument for securing global peace and security. In 2015, we adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also on the basis of the consensus that to transform our world we need to realize that „sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security; and the peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development.“ In 2023, at the mid-point in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the assessments of the Global Sustainable Development Progress Report show that the efforts to achieve that synergy so far have proved insufficient. Time to reinvigorate our political commitments to the full and efficient implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals is irreversibly running out. In the meantime, the necessary boost came with the UN Secretary-General`s vision offered in “Our Common Agenda” as an overarching roadmap in fighting the multiple crises. The Preparatory process for the next year’s Summit of the Future, along with its outcome the Pact for the Future, represents a unique opportunity to strengthen national and international governance and to make it more sustainable and resilient to future crises and shocks, safeguarding the planet for future generations. The international financial system is increasingly unable to adequately and efficiently respond to the challenges at hand. More needs to be done to update and upgrade the global financial infrastructure so it becomes more adapted to the needs of the world. Most notably, we need to scale up development and climate finance. In this sense, we support the efforts by the international financial institutions to review their structures and operating processes, with a view to reform in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Peace is not maintained by itself. Investment in conflict prevention is far more cost effective than investing in conflict resolution and recovery after the fact, post factum. This is why prevention of conflict and sustaining peace should be at the centre of the framework of the New Agenda for Peace, intertwined with a renewed commitment to multilateralism, global solidarity and trust. Croatia, as Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) for 2023, strongly advocates its strengthening and enlarging of both its geographical and thematic scope. We support the Secretary General’s call for the universality of conflict prevention and sustaining peace, and the development of national conflict prevention strategies. The PBC could review these strategies, helping to mobilize resources for their implementation when needed. The PBC should also work more closely with international financial institutions and regional actors, forming the Sustainable Peace Network. In addition to its advisory powers, the PBC could also be vested with decision-making powers, enabling it to establish UN civilian missions upon the request of countries concerned, helping to address the root causes of instability. In this regard, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals can be an excellent prevention tool by bringing prosperity and inclusion while leaving a safer place for future generations. According to the Sustainable Development Report 2023, Croatia’s performance in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals was assessed among top ranks. However, a lot of work is still in front of us. Croatia has a large natural heritage that it wants to preserve for future generations through the implementation of the SDGs. While accepting the clean energy transition, Croatia is taking a number of measures to alleviate the transition shock in the rejection of fossil fuels, and to ensure a fair transition and prevent energy poverty. With regard to biodiversity, Croatia is committed to work jointly for the development and full implementation of an ambitious and transformational Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework. Furthermore, we firmly believe that protecting, restoring and sustainably using biodiversity is essential for pandemic prevention and promotion of the “One Health Approach” which needs to be included in future prevention plans. We are also committed to working together to intensify cooperation in protecting the marine environment and combatting plastic pollution. If we want healthy oceans and seas, our ambition needs to be high and ocean protection stepped up significantly. Croatia welcomes the landmark adoption of the “Treaty of the High Seas” on ocean biodiversity (BBNJ). The successful negotiation of the BBNJ Agreement is the most recent proof of devoted multilateral work and presents not only a milestone in conserving marine biodiversity of nearly two-thirds of the world’s oceans, but also a triumph for multilateralism. Today, Croatia proudly joined the first tier of countries that have signed the Treaty, and commits to ratify it as soon as possible. We call on other countries to do so as well to enable its swift entering into force and to start its effective implementation. As a member State of the EU Croatia has already committed itself politically and legally to contribute in making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. By further pursuing that course and by accelerating development of renewables and increasing green investments, we believe we can turn the current crisis into a new chance for our economies. Here I will mention as an example one such project that can boost new growth of the European economy based on decarbonisation and clean industry. It is the project “North Adriatic Hydrogen Valley,” which encompasses the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Slovenia and Croatia. By putting clean energy transition in the heart of the fight against climate change on the global level, we should not forget that the most vulnerable communities, which have historically contributed the least to climate change, are often the ones most and the worst affected – both by the climate conditions and by the costs of the green energy transition as a remedy. The establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund to help vulnerable countries cope with the destructive impacts of climate change at COP27 marked a historic breakthrough in this respect. How we go about this issue at the Climate Ambition Summit and COP28 will be a true test of trust and solidarity among nations and will impact current and future generations. Creating a world of peace and security that respects human rights and promotes social progress is the very foundation of the United Nations. The amount of human rights violations and humanitarian crises around the world demonstrates that more must be done in terms of atrocity prevention and the operationalization of the responsibility to protect. Croatia is honoured to contribute to this cause by serving as co-chair of the Group of Friends of R2P in New York along with Costa Rica and Botswana. The Croatian Government remains committed to determining the fate of 1806 persons that went missing during our Homeland War in the 90s. Based on such a tragic national experience, we continue to render our unwavering support to all efforts to provide answers to those still suffering the anguish of uncertainty, anywhere in the world. We remain committed to combating hate speech, advancing the rights of women and children, protecting minorities, and the abolition of the death penalty. Gender equality is a foundation of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. In that vein, we highlight the importance of education and equal opportunities for girls and boys. We will continue advocating against discrimination and hate speech, including antisemitism. Croatia continues to attach utmost importance to its immediate neighbourhood in Southeast Europe. Issues of the past and war legacy, like resolving remaining cases of missing persons and engaging in meaningful cooperation in handling war crimes without discrimination and in line with international standards, access to archives, as well as other unresolved and highly sensitive issues must be fully tackled. We actively support the European perspective of our close neighbour Bosnia and Herzegovina and have warmly welcomed the recent EU decision on the granting to B-H the status of EU candidate country. We continue to advocate electoral reforms that would ensure legitimate representation of all constituent peoples, in particular Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, at all levels of the Government, which is in our view essential for the future stability and prosperity of the country. We are very concerned about the latest developments in Kosovo–Serbia relations and would like to encourage measures for the de-escalation of tensions. Similarly, these two countries need to focus on the normalization of relations and deliver on their commitments and start implementing what was agreed on this year in Brussels and Ohrid. We continue to advocate universal recognition of the Republic of Kosovo and its right to existence as an equal member of the community of nations. It is in our interest to promote stability and further development of this region, as well as the process of European integration, which we believe remains crucial for the future prosperity of our neighbours, and which we are hopeful will be accelerated in the coming years. Thank you.

Defense & Security
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Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko answered media questions

by Vladimir Putin

Following the Russian-Belarusian talks, the two leaders answered questions from the media. Question: Mr Putin, a couple of questions? President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead. Question: Your comment and the one by the Vice-President of Laos [Pany Yathotou], which you made at the EEF plenary session, on the use of cluster munitions, is being widely discussed. The United States is now supplying such munitions to Ukraine. What is the latest information on the use of these weapons in the special military operation zone? Vladimir Putin: They are being used in the broadest possible way. But I have already commented on this, I have nothing to add. The only thing worth mentioning, perhaps, is that this situation, like a drop of water, reflects what is happening in the world as a whole. What I mean by that is that there is one country that thinks it is exceptional, and that country is the United States. That country even thinks it is allowed to do what it considers a crime – it is the United States that uses cluster munitions, using the Ukrainian army in this case. I mean the country considers this a crime, but does it nonetheless, and this is the main problem of today's international relations. This is the reason why the overwhelming majority of participants in international communication have joined us in fighting to create a multipolar world, since no one sees this situation as acceptable. I said almost because even those countries that appear to be allies of the United States, I can assure you, they do not like this situation either, where they are reduced to the role of extras. So yes, unfortunately, they are using them, they call it a crime and are still doing it. Question: If I may, one more question. A broad discussion arose – again at the Eastern Economic Forum – over the possibility of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken’s statement that “it takes two to tango” about Russia and Ukraine. How do you assess the prospects for talks? Vladimir Putin: As for the Americans, they do not even know how to tango, they have a tendency to – for all the wonderful, amazing music, and beautiful movements – the United States is trying to approach everything from a position of force: through economic sanctions, or financial restrictions, or threats to use military force, and actually using it. They are lecturing others even though they have no idea how to do it and do not want to. Most likely, they just do not want to. This is the first point. Second, I already said that we have never refused to hold talks. So, please, if the other party wants them, they should say so directly. I am speaking about it but the other side keeps silent. Finally, tango is good, of course… I think Ukraine should not forget about its gopak dance. It is important, otherwise they will keep dancing to someone else’s tune. And by the way, everyone will have to perform the barynya dance or, in the best-case scenario, the kazachok. Alexander Lukashenko: They sort of started dancing and held three rounds of talks in Belarus, then in Istanbul, and then [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken and [US Secretary of Defence Lloyd] Austin told Zelensky… Vladimir Putin: Gave a command, and that was it. Alexander Lukashenko: Gave a command and he prohibited them to hold talks. The facts are on the table, they are obvious. So, they should not blame anyone. Vladimir Putin: He signed a decree prohibiting talks. Alexander Lukashenko: Exactly, they forbade themselves. Question: The last question relates to Kim Jong-un’s visit. Many in the West believe that the visit will aggravate tensions in the region. They say that Russia all but asked North Korea to send volunteers to take part in the special military operation. What can you say on this matter? Vladimir Putin: I can say that this is complete nonsense. A couple of days ago, I said that 270,000 of our men, our warriors signed contracts with the Russian Armed Forces. But it was old information. This morning it was reported to me that there were 300,000 contracts signed by people who – I want to emphasise this – are ready to sacrifice their lives for the interests of our Motherland, to protect Russia’s interests. Yes, we pay them some money, which is much, much more than the average monthly salary in the country. But can money compensate for a death or a severe injury? Of course not. So first of all, our men who sign these contracts are guided by the most noble patriotic sentiments. It commands respect. This is the first thing. Second, about some kind of provocations, escalations, and creating a threat to anyone. We do not threaten anyone. The largest threats in the world today are created by today’s ruling elites. They themselves say this. Several years ago, a former [US] Defence Secretary Mr [Robert] Gates, I think, said the greatest threat to the United States came from the territory where the Capitol or the White House is located. They talk about it themselves, while looking for a threat outside. Therefore, I want to stress once again that this is complete nonsense: Korea is our neighbour, and we must build good neighbourly relations with our neighbours one way or another. Yes, there are certain specifics associated with the Korean Peninsula. We discuss this openly; we never violate anything; and in this case we are not going to violate anything. But, of course, we will look for opportunities to develop Russian-North Korean relations. Alexander Lukashenko: Mr Putin, the Westerners have to count first how many of their mercenaries they have sent there, and how many are fighting there. There are dark-skinned, Asian, and white Americans, all of whom are fighting on the side of the Ukrainians. Why blame Russia for inviting someone there? So maybe that is why they need to do it. Secondly, this is a dangerous statement on their part, because they dream about seeing their regular military units there, already lined up near the border in Poland. You have also talked about this. Military units have been formed and are ready to enter Ukraine. You need to look at yourself first and not reproach others. Vladimir Putin: I absolutely agree. By the way, we have detected foreign mercenaries and instructors both on the battlefield and in the units where training is carried out. I think yesterday or the day before yesterday someone was captured again. We do not need to invite people from outside for combat operations. Moreover, I want to emphasise this again, 300,000 people signed contracts and came as volunteers. And moreover: the units that are now being formed are equipped with advanced types of weapons and equipment, and some of them are already 85–90 percent equipped. <…>

Diplomacy
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Address by the President of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs at Council of Europe Justice Ministers’ Informal Conference ‘On the Path to Justice for Ukraine’

by Edgars Rinkēvičs

Madam Minister,  Distinguished ministers, Madam Secretary General, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Commissioner, Ladies and gentlemen, A very warm welcome to Riga! I am very pleased to open this conference, a signature event during Latvia’s Presidency in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The conference is a direct continuation of the Reykjavik Summit that took place in May of this year. The focus of today’s conference is the existential issue Europe is facing now. Namely, justice for Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s aggression and full-scale military invasion. Before briefly addressing the central themes of the conference, I want to recall that the Council of Europe was the first international organisation to decide on the discontinuation of Russia’s membership. This principled position of our organization once again confirmed our commitment to democratic values and the international rule of law. It also affirmed that our organisation is ready to assume a leading role in actively defending these values. Today’s conference confirms that our commitment has not wavered. We seek justice for Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine as long as it takes. Ladies and gentlemen, During today’s conference, you will address themes that represent pillars on which justice is built – accountability, resilience, and hope. First, accountability. Russia has brutally violated international law. It must therefore face full accountability. By “full accountability” I mean both, responsibility of Russia as a state, and the individual liability of those Russian officials who launched the war of aggression against Ukraine. Those who committed war crimes and other most serious crimes of international concern. Russia must also bear full responsibility for the damage, loss, or injury caused to Ukraine and its people. I commend the Council of Europe for creating the Register of Damages. This is an important step towards a future international compensation mechanism. The Register of Damages will ensure proper registration and documentation of the devastation Russia has brought to Ukraine. I call on all countries that have not yet done so to join the Register and demonstrate our solidarity with and support to Ukraine. During our Presidency in the Council of Europe, Latvia is determined to advance the operational launch of the Register. I welcome the intention of the Ministers to adopt today a Declaration containing principles that will guide the functioning of the Register or Riga Principles. I particularly welcome the emphasis on victim-centred approach. We must make sure that victims, in particular the most vulnerable, such as women and children, remain the focus of our efforts. Second, resilience. The justice system of Ukraine is currently bearing a heavy burden. It continues to ensure justice and the rule of law, including through the investigation of crimes committed by Russia. By continuing to uphold fair trial standards, Ukraine clearly demonstrates its values and the strength of its democracy. I encourage member states of the Council of Europe to provide support to the Action Plan on Resilience, Recovery, and Rebuilding of Ukraine. Latvia has already provided its financial contribution. Finally, hope. We all have heard and seen heartbreaking reports about Ukrainian children being forcibly and illegally deported to Belarus and Russia. We must do our utmost to ensure the return of these children, to ensure that they are reunited with their families. We must restore hope. Ladies and gentlemen, In Reykjavik, we committed to strengthening the role of the Council of Europe. We also reiterated our common resolve to unite around our values and standards. I am confident that today’s conference will be an important contribution to our work for the benefit of all Europeans, including future generations. Thank you!

Diplomacy
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Speech delivered by Prime Minister of Slovenia Robert Golob at Bled Strategic Forum on the 28th of August

by Robert Golob

Dear Charles.  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Bled Strategic Forum and welcome to Slovenia.  This month, on the 3rd of August, Slovenia was hit by the most devastating floods in the country’s history. Within just a matter of hours, 10,000 people lost their homes. Families lost everything.  We were able to secure relief from the EU. We received offers of aid from our neighbouring countries within the region. Even NATO responded. Everyone understood the severity of the disaster and sent their best engineering teams, along with heavy equipment, some of whom are still here helping our people rebuild their communities. I would also like to express my gratitude to all of you, all of those who have already helped, either physically or financially, and to others who will perhaps contribute in the coming hours. It is by showing solidarity, by working hand in hand with our friends, neighbours, and allies, that we truly make the world a better place. This is a message that we should not forget under any circumstances, not just when we are facing dire times, because you never know when the situation will become too difficult for you.  And as Peter Grk, Secretary General of the Bled Strategic Forum said, in Europe, sometimes or even most of the time, we live under the impression that extreme events do not happen here. They happen far away, far abroad. Well, not anymore. The extreme weather that we are currently facing is, of course, a localized phenomenon. But the conditions that caused this weather are indeed worldwide. Climate change is not something that any of us can escape. It is here. It is happening. We can see its impact growing every year, though its specific effects are unpredictable. The only predictable thing about climate change is that it is not going to get any better by itself. This is a message that we must never forget.  Still, we need to put in place mechanisms to adapt to the catastrophes like the one that hit Slovenia three weeks ago, because they will happen again. And we can only address such a demanding project at the international level. No nation, especially not individual small nations, can face it alone. Even the biggest nations cannot face it alone. This is one of the most important messages that we will bring to the table during our membership in the UN Security Council. We want to place the climate agenda at the top of our priorities. And one reason why I think we may be successful in this endeavour, not because of the catastrophe that we faced three weeks ago, is that, as a very small country with little international clout makes us a very honest broker. I can tell you right now that we are brave enough to undertake this rule. We want to be an honest broker. We want to be sincere, perhaps addressing issues that bigger nations are somehow neglecting due to their own national agendas.  The second of our primary goals is figuring out how to bring peace to Ukraine. It is practically impossible at this time, perhaps, but we will invest all of our knowledge, all of our time in this one particular goal, whether we are ultimately successful or not. No one can tell. But will we try? Yes, we will, because this is the single most important topic on the table of the United Nations. And that's the only place where this war can end: at the table of the United Nations. And we will do everything we can to bring it forth.  Finally, I'm really glad to have all of you here, my dear colleagues from the Western Balkans. I'm glad that you all made it here safely. Nobody is missing. Just this in itself is a huge success. But it doesn't stop here, because the message that I want to impart, and I'm pretty sure that Charles [Michel] will do so even more decisively, but the message that I want to share is that the momentum is changing due to Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. The stance of European Union Member States regarding the enlargement of European Union took on a totally new perspective. Things are changing rapidly. In the next 12 months I'm pretty sure that the enlargement process will not just gain attraction but an entirely new perspective. And I urge all of you not to be left behind. I urge all of you to continue pressing on with the reforms, but also to be aware of what's going on regarding the changes within the European Union itself. We all know that we will have to reform our processes within the European Union. And as I said, these reforms will either happen within the next 12 months or they may not happen for a very long time. This is an occasion that shall not be overlooked. Slovenia will remain a strong supporter of your membership. Slovenia will continue to do all those things that are necessary within the European Council and also in dialogue with the European Commission to make it possible for you to become members of our European family, to put you where you belong. That is the last message that I wanted to impart: you all belong with us.  And as I said, none of these challenges that I addressed are going to be easy to meet. None. We will have to work hard. It will cost a lot of money, especially for flood relief and the reconstruction. It will take a lot of time, but we need to find both the courage and the wisdom. And we will do so, in order to show that yes, we can, we can build a better world. A world based on solidarity.  Thank you.

Diplomacy
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Speech of Bulgarian Premier Minister Academician Nikolai Denkov

by Nikolai Denkov

Dear Mr. Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic / Dear KyriakosDear Ministers, Dear Governor, Dear Mayor of ThessalonikiDear Mr. Dzikas, Dear Greek friends It is, indeed, a privilege to address you in the context of the Thessaloniki International Fair. I thank the organizers of the HELEXPO and I thank the Greek Prime Minister for his kind invitation. Let me start by saying that during the last days and weeks we have witnessed the worst possible consequences of the climate crisis. We have seen scenes of destruction that we could not imagine we would see in our lifetime. Some of these tragic events happened here in Greece - our closest neighbor and most friendly country, just a few kilometers from our common border. Allow me to express my deepest condolences for the victims of the recent floods in your country and our full solidarity with the friendly Greek people. Tonight I want to send a message loud and clear: Greece is not alone. You have many partners and friends and we will spare no effort to help you mitigate the consequences. Bulgaria and the whole Europea Union stands with you.  We also have victims from the floods in Bulgaria. Both countries face similar problems, such as floods and fires. Helping each other and working together is a must. As an example, this year we have twice deployed Bulgarian firefighting teams to help you overcome devastating fires. Climate change is a global challenge, which demands a common answer. We need to work more closely together to share information and technologies, to integrate our weather forecast systems and our early warning systems to better prevent disasters in the future. I can assure you we are ready for such a mutually beneficial cooperation. Ladies and Gentlemen,Bulgaria is the honoured country at this year’s Thessaloniki International Fair. This is great honour for us, but above all, this is an acknowledgement of the exemplary level, which the relations between Bulgaria and Greece have reached. This is also an acknowledgement of the important role, which my country plays in the region. The presence at such an important international forum provides a broad range of opportunities to enhance further our already excellent economic ties. Bulgaria is represented in several related sectors such as IT, hi-tech, energy, infrastructure, construction, education, tourism and the food industry. Bulgarian companies with a strong international presence participate, including EnduroSat, a significant player in the satellite industry and space technology, and Telerik Academy, providing accessible and innovative digital technology training. Among the participants is Sofia Techpark which provides a platform for global, regional and national companies to develop innovative technologies and to exchange know-how. The Bulgarian Investment Agency, which supports the creation of projects leading to new jobs, exports and transfer of know-how, is also here. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, whose experts conduct scientific research, training and activities of international importance, is present as well. Dear Prime Minister,This is the right occasion to acknowledge the fact that your leadership has transformed Greece into an attractive destination for international investments. Let me assure you that this is valid also for the investments from Bulgaria. At present, they are mainly focused in the energy, infrastructure and tourism sectors. I hope that in the near future we will witness Bulgarian investments in new fields, such us communications and information technologies. The IGB project for the gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria, in operation since October 2022, in which Bulgaria participates with a 50% stake, is a clear example of a strategic, long-term investment with a broad regional scope. The same applies to the project for a floating LNG terminal near Alexandroupolis in which Bulgaria participates with 20%. We are jointly working on a project for an oil pipeline connecting Alexandroupolis and Burgas where we have the biggest refinery in the Balkans. Bulgaria has a particular interest in the plans for the future development and management of the Greek ports of Kavala and Alexandroupolis. Bulgarian businesses are also showing strong interest in using these two commercial ports, especially in the context of the blocked trade routes in the Black Sea due to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.  All this implies the establishment of a much better, let me call it by its proper name, a modern connecting infrastructure between our two countries, relevant for two members of the European Union and bringing new opportunities for our economic cooperation in the next decades. These new realities are best embodied by the Sea2Sea initiative, which aims at connecting Bulgarian ports on the Black Sea and the Danube river with the Greek ports in the north Aegean Sea through a modern transport, energy and communication infrastructure. In practical terms, it would be an alternative route to the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Undoubtedly, Greece and Bulgaria have the potential to create together an energy and transport hub in Southeast Europe, the importance of which would be not only of regional, but of pan-European scale. Dear friends,I am scientist by profession. As such, I cannot offer a magic formula how to transform the Balkans into a prosperous and modern European region. But I strongly believe in three factors which might do the “miracle”: 1. The consolidating and transformational role of the European Union; 2. The regional connectivity 3. The good-neighborly relations.  Good-neighbourliness is an indispensable guiding principle for the regional transformation. What we have to ensure is that words turn into deeds by all countries in the region.  I am proud to say and I hope that my dear colleague Kyriakos Mitsotakis would agree with me that our two countries, Bulgaria and Greece, are leading by example. An example for the whole region.  The history of relations between Bulgarians and Greeks is very, very old. I can think of no other two nations in Europe who have a longer history of relations. We have been neighbours for centuries. We have shared a turbulent past, marked by ups and downs, wars and peace, opposing blocks and alliances. It is not a miracle that after more than a thousand years of controversies, today Bulgaria and Greece enjoy such exemplary good-neighbourly relations. The truth is that it has taken decades of joint efforts of wise Bulgarian and Greek politicians, incl. Konstantinos Karamanlis, who was born here in Northern Greece. It has taken a lot of good will and dedication from diplomats and ordinary people to overcome the shadows of the past and to build mutual respect, trust and confidence.  The Greek-Bulgarian relations have flourished because they have a solid ground –our common values and our strong belief in a democratic international system, based on the principles and norms of international law.   We are proud with our strategic partnership which plays a crucial role for the stability of the whole region of South-East Europe.  Our nations share common hopes and concerns.  We are allies and friends. We are good neighbours who respect and trust each other. Such relations have an enormous potential for the future generations of Greeks and Bulgarians and they deserve our dedication. Dear Greek friends, A thought by the famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard comes to my mind: You can understand life only looking backwards, but you can live your life only looking forward.    We cannot change history, but we can definitely shape our common future. Through leadership, strategic vision, more connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation.  I believe we can do it together. Bulgaria and Greece.Hand in hand, leading by example. Thank you!

Defense & Security
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Interview with Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave an interview to Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko. In an interview the head of state said that the war in Ukraine was avoidable: "The war was avoidable. At any point in time. It can be stopped now and it could have been avoided then." Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that at one point he was actually at the epicenter of the events and facilitated the communication between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin: "I was a liaison between Poroshenko and Putin shuttling between the two. So I was familiar with all the issues." The President recalled that the Minsk agreements envisioned to legislate a special status for certain districts of Donetsk Oblast and Lugansk Oblast and to hold local elections there: "There is something you do not know and no one does. We discussed these issues with Poroshenko, with Putin. Not three of them together, but separately. But I remember the conversation with Putin. I told him: ‘Listen, it's a good option. Why not? Gradually, over the course of a year, two or three, this territory will not be disputed and so on, as it was then. However, the then President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, refused to hold the elections. "Poroshenko told me: ‘Why should I hold these elections? They will be held under the control of Russia.’ I told him: ‘Petro, well, this year, supposedly, they will be held under the control of Russia. This is something we could agree on. This is negotiable. I suggested to them: ‘I will hold elections there, I will do as you, Putin and Poroshenko, agree. And I will conduct them as you decide.’ Poroshenko refused. Putin agreed to everything," the head of state said. According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, if it had been done then, everything would have been quiet and calm. The Ukrainian hryvnia would circulate in the respective territories, and in general, the regions and the border with Russia would be under the control of Ukraine. "Donbass would have returned to Ukraine as an autonomy," Diana Panchenko said. "(Practically, yes. But he [Petro Poroshenko] was afraid that the wrong people would have been elected there," the President said. “I'm telling you frankly that there was such a conversation. Well, wrong people this year. But you would have the border there under your control. All of this would have been Ukraine. The wrong ones were elected. But it is people who vote. Next year, they will vote in the right ones. That was what we discussed. This issue must have been solved then. The Minsk agreements should have been implemented. We agreed on everything. What was needed was to comply with the Minsk agreements. But they were ignored. And, as I understand it, no one was going to comply with them. Answering the clarifying question of whether Russia was going to implement the Minsk agreements, Aleksandr Lukashenko said: "100%. You can't pin this on her. You don't have the facts for that. While there are many facts that Ukraine had not honored the Minsk agreements." In the interview, the President also answered a question regarding Russia's launch of the special military operation in February 2022. In previous statements and interviews, the head of state has repeatedly talked about how events developed, and recalled some facts. He recalled that he had recently put it “casuistically" by suggesting asking Vladimir Zelensky why Russian troops crossed the border between Belarus and Ukraine in the Chernobyl region. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled that at that time, even before 24 February, when Russia began its military operation, the scheduled Belarusian-Russian exercises were on in Belarus. Such drills are held alternately in the two states. "We saw the situation was escalating not even on the border of Belarus and Ukraine, not even on the border of Russia and Ukraine. We saw what was happening on the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Remember the migrant crisis, to which we had practically nothing to do," the President said. “Migrants walked in droves through the Ukrainian territory but it was not given as much importance as the situation on the border of Belarus and Poland. Remember the clashes and so on. We understood that they were starting to draw us in, to entangle us, to provoke us." "The exercise was over. Russian troops began to withdraw from the territory of Belarus. Hardware was being loaded. The troops were actually from the Far East. They were withdrawing," the head of state recalled. Belarus had always been very good in relation to Ukraine, which cannot be said about Ukraine in relation to Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. "We are accused of contributing to the start of the war here. No, the warfare was already underway. You started it. The Ukrainians started this warfare against Belarus. Economic warfare first of all. You have declared a blockade on us in the southern direction. You closed the sky to our planes even before the Europeans did. You did not let our goods through. You arrested thousands of wagons with mineral fertilizers that we loaded here in the port of Odessa," the President said. He also recalled the story of the Belarusian truckers captured in Ukraine, of whom several people were killed. After repeated warnings, the Belarusian side had to carry out an operation to free more than 70 people. "You didn't even notice that we  got them out. You saw it only when it was shown in Minsk. We acted very carefully. We did not commit any hostile acts against you, either economic, or political, or diplomatic," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "Why did Putin begin to withdraw troops to the Far East through Kiev? You ask Zelensky this question. He knows better. But there are reasons to accuse me of Putin going to Vladivostok through Kiev... Well, you can ask Putin," the head of state suggested. Diana Panchenko noted that she would very much like to ask Vladimir Zelensky but he is not as open to communication as the President of Belarus. "Well, he was open once, wasn’t he? Why isn’t he now? Let him answer the question to the Ukrainians. You can't reproach me for anything. There was not a single Belarusian solder there. We did not cross the border. But you did provoke us," the Belarusian leader stressed. He recalled that long before 24 February 2022, Ukraine deployed four units near the border with Belarus. They were mainly armed with Tochka-U missile systems. "We, our intelligence were tracking them. Once they came close, removed the tarpaulin - shelters from the missiles, deployed them in a combat position and turned them towards us. We had to deal with them during the Russian operation. The Russians destroyed them in the first place," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. In this regard, he asked a rhetorical question why Ukraine had to take these actions. The head of state was asked whether he and the Russian President had any disputes over Ukraine over the past year. Aleksandr Lukashenko said that they express different points of view when discussing various issues: “For example, there is a lot of talk about peace today. We voice different points of view on the issue. If there is an issue to discuss, we discuss it. It does not happen the way some people in the West try to present it. The so-called opposition says that Lukashenko does everything Putin says him to do. People who know me understand very well that this is impossible due to my character and my approach. There were times when we had argued really hard...” Diana Panchenko also asked what it cost the Belarusian President “not to recognize Crimea for eight years” although the Russian President could theoretically insist on it. “He never insisted,” the Belarusian leader replied. Aleksandr Lukashenko explained that such position was not about some benefits. “It did not give anything to us. We cooperated with Crimea and continue cooperating. They visited us, asked us for certain assistance - buses, vehicles, other things. We sold our goods to them. And the Ukrainian authorities later reproached us for selling buses there. Look, anything can be sold in our world today. But we did not hide this. Neither regarding Abkhazia nor Crimea. This is not as if I heroically stood my ground for all these eight years. It was simply unnecessary from the practical point of view,” the President said. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled how he and Vladimir Putin were going to visit Crimea. “It was my suggestion,” the Belarusian President emphasized. “I suggested going there together. I told him that I hadn’t been to Crimea for a long time, and after all there is the Belarusian sanatorium there,” the head of state said. The President noted that he always enjoyed visiting Crimea and Ukraine, admired local beautiful landscapes and had great respect for people in Ukraine, including the western regions. In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted he loves Ukraine and its people. He reminded that he has Ukrainian roots among other ones. “It is personal. I love and loved Ukraine very much. I remember when my eldest son was still little. I got into a car and drove along the Leningrad-Odessa motorway. I went to Odessa. I stopped in fields and looked around admiring the magnificent sights. In Soviet times. I sincerely love this country and its people,” the President said. He remarked that he likes even people, who live in western Ukraine and are believed to have more nationalistic attitudes: “When I was the director of an agricultural enterprise, they would come to me every year to earn money. They needed cereals. Because growing cereals is difficult in the Carpathian Mountains. Such hardworking people! I always used them as an example. I always used my own transport to deliver two times more grain to them, to western Ukraine than what they earned.” Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying: “The deepest respect for these people. And for western ones as well, I’ll have you know. And for Crimea. I went there. And I have always felt love for Ukraine. And I still feel exactly the same. Despite their trying to portray me as some bastard instead of Batka [father in Belarusian]. Time will come and people will sort out everything.” Aleksandr Lukashenko told the interview what Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks about the events in Ukraine and whether he is upset about them. "We touched on the situation again the last time we met (it was St. Petersburg, then Valaam). We conversed for a long time and he would say: "It's bad that we, the two peoples, clashed. You [Belarus] is involved. We are Slavic peoples!” He said thoughtfully [here’s the inside information): "No one was going to subjugate, enslave, and deprive Ukraine of independence. We didn't need it. But they should have behaved differently and should not have created problems for us," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "I had nothing to object to him. Although we usually argue a lot. But what is there to object to that? On the contrary, I supported him," the President said. “You see, he said this out of the blue. No one was going to deprive Ukraine of independence. Why did Ukraine need to behave like it did? I saw this happen starting with Leonid Danilovich Kuchma [the second President of Ukraine]. I am a unique person. For 30 years I have seen everything that has been happening and that had to do with these events. It all began, unfortunately, with Leonid Danilovich Kuchma." The journalist asked Aleksandr Lukashenko what he thinks about the narrative promoted in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin has imperial ambitions and the allegations that he has supposedly gone mad. "No, Putin has not gone mad. With regard the imperial ambitions, I have not seen them either. But I have this idea that the leaders of large states always have this sense of confidence. That’s how I see it. This also applies to the United States of America. Isn’t it so? There's no way to measure their ambitions and the things they are doing. Russia is a huge empire, what can I say? Of course, this leaves its mark on the character of a person. But it’s all empty words, fiction that Putin has imperial ambitions. Especially now," Aleksandr Lukashenko replied. Speaking about some feelings of the Russian President, the Belarusian leader noted that no matter how close they are, Vladimir Putin is still the head of one state, and he is the head of another. "The human heart is a mystery, as our people say. I can't go into detail. But he is taking these events hard. It is not an easy situation. As a person he is absolutely sensible, experienced, analyzes everything, tries to look ahead, calculates. His life experience was such. He is practically a military man. He had a job where he had to calculate a lot in advance. He really works everything out. But he never, I'm sure, ever had these designs to go and enslave Ukraine first, then Belarus, then others. This is nonsense," the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko also noted that Vladimir Putin is a very cautious person: "He never acts on a whim. He will take a step and will take a long, long time to see if it is worth taking the second step. Therefore, the assumption that he would have taken 10 steps at a time skipping) the previous nine and attack Ukraine is nonsense. He tried everything, step by step. These steps were visible." In this regard, the President recalled his conversation with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in the first days of the war. "We talked for a long time. He was huffing and puffing... I said: "You know, Volodya, we will not argue on the phone. But remember: the war is in your country. Sooner or later people will ask you why you let the war happen on your land, why you did not prevent it no matter how difficult it was," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “The war was avoidable. I was between you and Russia all the time and saw this opportunity. The most striking illustration is the meeting of the Normandy Four. The agreement was reached. Let's implement it since we agreed. Why didn’t you?" In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had not discussed the possibility of such a development before the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the Russian leader voiced a request to his Belarusian ally a few days prior to 24 February 2022. “You watched his speech on TV [after the start of the special military operation]. So did I. This is the first thing. We had not had any discussions prior to the start of the operation. I swear to you that we had never had any talks about Russia taking any action against Ukraine. It’s just that a few days ahead of the operation we met at his country residence to discuss the situation,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “He told me then (I am telling this for the first time): “Listen, Sasha, you know what the current situation is. I hope we are allies no matter what may happen”. Of course, we are allies, everyone knows about our treaties: if someone goes against Russia, we enter the war, if something like that happens to Belarus, Russia sides with us. We actually have a unified army here. So Vladimir Putin said: “If anything happens…” I asked: “Listen, what can happen?” “Well, if anything happens, watch my back, please,” he said. The Belarusian head of state recalled that in the first days of the special military operation he made a statement that Belarus was not getting involved in the conflict, as Russia was capable of dealing with everything itself. “But we will not allow shooting Russians in the back. Do you remember that phrase of mine? It had to do with Putin's request to watch their back. Most likely, he was concerned about a stab in the back from the West.” The President explained how combat operations around Kiev truly happened at the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine in early 2022. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “It was definitely the matter of several days. If Russians had captured Kiev, can you imagine what war it would be? The war would have ended already.” The reporter pointed out that Ukrainians believe that Volodymyr Zelensky protected Kiev and that the Ukrainian army repulsed the Russian invasion. Aleksandr Lukashenko responded by saying: “Listen, it is a fairy tale and nothing else. But all of it was probably cooked up by mass media and Zelensky himself in order to demonstrate his heroism. Once again I happened to be between Putin and some forces in Kiev, who had already agreed to ‘Hande hoch’ as Germans say. In order to survive. And I had a conversation with Putin because of it. Putin told me: ‘You know, [Kiev can be captured], it can be done right away, instantaneously but a huge number of people will die’.” The President said that the Ukrainian army had deployed not only combat tanks but multiple-launch rocket systems in the streets. And they hid behind kindergartens, schools, hospitals, and other social facilities. “He wondered how one could fight them in a military way. He said: we organize a pinpoint operation, we are on the outskirts of Kiev, we cannot fire indiscriminately like they do. In other words, he worried about having to fight in a way that would leave nothing standing at the site of this school,” he said. Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that the Ukrainian army acted exactly the same way in Artyomovsk (Bakhmut). Fighters of the Russian private military company Wagner confirmed it. “And I had a conversation with Putin. He said: ‘How can we fire at them in Kiev if they hide behind a school and kindergartens?’ I am nearly quoting. So there were fears. A different person could have told him: ‘Listen, a war is going on. If you started a war, fight it’. And he told the truth when he said: ‘We haven’t even started yet’,” the Belarus President noted. “I am not going to dwell on reasons. You probably know that the Russian troops, who were on the outskirts of Kiev, withdrew from there. And no Zelensky repulsed anything there. Putin withdrew these troops later on. How could he [Zelensky] have defended it? Did he destroy the Russian army there? No. This is why he says he committed a heroic feat that hadn’t happened. Putin withdrew these troops from Kiev,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “He was sitting in a root cellar at that time, Diana. Your Zelensky was sitting in a root cellar back then. He didn’t fight anyone and didn’t repulse anything. But the military saw how it would end.” “I often criticize Volodya Zelensky. For his lack of experience, ostentatious behavior. He has always been like that. It played a part. Yet, as I have already said, this trouble started from Leonid Danilovich [Ukraine’s second President Leonid Kuchma]. There was no clear strategy back then; it was a back-and-forth,” the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled his meeting with President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma that took place after the constitutional referendum in Belarus: “Leonid Danilovich started talking about Ukraine and Yeltsin said: “Listen, Aleksandr Grigorievich, why wouldn’t you help him draft a decent constitution and hold a referendum. I said, well, to be serious, I’m ready to pitch in.” According to the Belarusian head of state, a draft constitution was developed together with Ukrainian specialists. “It was more, so to say, democratic than that of Belarus and Russia. But it was similar to ours. This constitution would have saved Ukraine from that chaos that happened later. This constitution was ready. Opinion polls suggested (we did not hide the fact that I was involved in the process) that the Ukrainians would have supported it. But time was passing by and they were kicking the can down the road,” the head of state noted. “Why so? He [Leonid Kuchma] said that the Verkhovna Rada would not pass this constitution. I objected: Listen, you haven’t even submitted it to the Verkhovna Rada yet; and indeed, will it really go against people’s will? You can hold a referendum. You can put it to vote in a referendum, get it approved and then submit to the Verkhovna Rada,” Aleksandr Lukashenko recalled. “In other words, that was one of the options. That was where it all started. Kuchma, then Yushchenko, then Yanukovich... The problems were snowballing. Finally it all descended upon Volodya Zelensky, he was not a politician, he was inexperienced, politics was simply not his thing. But he promised (even in that movie Servant of the People) to deal with oligarchs, thieves, crooks and other problems and to sort out problems around Ukraine, a very beautiful and rich country. He saw it all. He has made his bed, so now he must lie in it. He is not exactly the right man for this job,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Again, Zelensky is not the only one to blame. It’s true, he was not up to the task. But was it easier for others? Was it easier for Putin when he became President? Or was it easier for Belarusians? Belarus was a basket case, we had no money, nothing. We were left in a pickle. We printed these banknotes depicting bunnies, remember?” the head of state asked. The head of state recalled how things developed in Ukraine under different Presidents. There was a chance to prevent war, but it was not used. The inexperienced Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, who came to power with the support of the West and above all the United States, did not cope with the situation. "Does Russia share responsibility?" the journalist asked. “Of course. Russia is responsible for everything. For the collapse of the Soviet Union, for the then fight on a personal level. Now they say: ‘Well, the Soviet Union would have collapsed anyway. It’s good that it broke up like that, as not much blood was shed." But see how much blood we are shedding now! The wars happened along the entire perimeter. It remains to be seen how it will end. Therefore, Russia was the main state that glued, held everything together, bore responsibility as she is the successor of the Soviet Union. Of course, Russia is also to blame. We are all to blame. Russia, Belarus, Ukraine…," the Belarusian leader replied. "Poroshenko had a chance to turn everything around. Zelensky had this chance too. He was a new person, he had nothing to do with what has happened. Let’s sit down, think about what is best for your state, for your people. Why are you waging this war now?" Aleksandr Lukashenko. “A lot of people are starting to assess Zelensky in the right way. Hence this back-and-forth on his part. He cannot make up his mind whether to call the election (when are you having it - in a year or two?) or, using martial law, to postpone it. In other words, the situation is very unclear. And it is not a given that Zelensky will win this election, although you claim that he has a 90% approval rating. It is a sham. I will tell you, if the election was held in the near future, one of the military [would win]. Budanov or the like would become President. Someone from the military, but not him [not Zelensky],” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The head of state noted that the West, primarily the United States, seeks to weaken Russia and bring it to its knees with the help of military operations in Ukraine. At the same time, the interests of Ukraine are disregarded. “After all, the best people die there. Ukraine is losing almost everything. It is not in Ukraine’s interests,” the Belarusian leader said. “Who benefits from it then? Zelensky?” the journalist asked a clarifying question. “Yes, that’s right. Ukraine is not Zelensky, and Zelensky is not Ukraine. Zelensky ... Well, listen, he is a ‘hero’. He travels around the world wearing a trident T-shirt and displays his heroism. And they in the West know how to eulogize. Remember how they went into raptures about Gorbachev: “Gorbi, Gorbi, Gorbi!” And the Soviet Union collapsed. Exactly the same is happening to him: “Ah, Zelensky! Ah, a hero!” Whose hero is he? He is their hero, not a hero of Ukrainian people,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized. The head of state is sure that people in Ukraine, intoxicated by propaganda, will eventually be able to see things clearly. “It won’t go on like this forever. I am also following public opinion trends in Ukraine. Not the things that your opinion polls suggest, but what people really think. There is a growing understanding that Zelensky should find a way out of this situation, to put it mildly. People there should not die, mothers should not lose their children. It does not matter to a mother what ways and methods will be used to save her child. They should save not only their lives, but also the lives of their children. What kind of patriotism, what Motherland and so on can you talk about when your child’s life is at stake?” “Therefore, people in Ukraine are beginning to see things clearly. And millions of people who fled the country are raising their voices saying that they want to return home and asking why the war is still going on. I know for sure, they are sick and tired of your oligarchs. They want to save their billions and earn money there. But the war does not let them do it. What investments can flow in if the war is raging?” the President noted. Thus, only the United States benefits from the war. “It does not bother them that the Slavic peoples are fighting with each other, and killing each other. It is beneficial for them. Thus, having weakened Russia, they will get closer to China from this side. That’s their rationale. Zelensky is playing along. But in the end Ukraine - a flourishing, beautiful country blessed with natural resources - will cease to exist,” the Belarusian leader added. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Judging by all my contacts I’ve had this year (there were various contacts), I have to tell you that you shouldn’t say that the West wants [the war in Ukraine to continue]. Yes, for now they are dancing to the tune of Americans. But Western Europe is Germans, the French, and other ones. Except Englishmen of course. Those are dominated by the USA. Western Europe doesn’t need this war already. Their top people say that the war is not in America, this war is in our home.” “The war needs to stop. Europeans are absolutely intent on doing it but for now they are following orders. 15 Leopard [tanks have been given to Ukraine]. But they give military hardware unwillingly,” the Belarusian leader stated. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that one can no longer say that the West is cemented. “They convey these signals to your President Zelensky. Zelensky is stubborn. Why? Because his key sponsor is behind him. The United States of America. So Europe is starting drifting little by little. The public opinion in leading European countries about this war is very bad. More and more people are speaking up against it. Because they feel the damage of this war in their wallets. Americans don’t. They profiteer from it. And they support Zelensky in this regard. This is why there is no unity of Europeans and Zelensky about the continuation of this war,” the President said. In his words, once Americans want it and give this signal to Zelensky, he will start peace talks. “How can it be any other way? If there are no deliveries of weapons via Rzeszow and other border crossings, then there will be no war,” the head of state remarked. Why can the USA give this signal at some point? Aleksandr Lukashenko gave the following answer to this question: “Because they will understand that Ukraine will not win. It will lose. If Ukraine loses decisively and Russians manage to move forward, well, then the entire West will lose. This is why they need to give a signal to start negotiations when the time is right.” Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Negotiations have to start without preliminary conditions. It is a classic move of any diplomacy. This is what I think. It is necessary to start negotiations and discuss everything. Including Crimea, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, and Lugansk. Everything needs to be discussed there. But at a negotiation table. Sit down and work out the agenda. As it usually happens. A list of items. You can return to those items, which were worked out in the past [during previous rounds of negotiations, three of which took place in Ukraine and another one in Tьrkiye]. Then Russia was ready to discuss any matters.” The President went on saying: “Certainly, Russia will never ever return Crimea as you say. It won’t happen. I doubt for now that some agreement can be reached here, in the east. But Russia is ready to discuss any topic. I know it for sure. They are ready to talk about any topic and discuss any topic. But you [Ukrainians] are pushed by Americans and don’t want that for now. You don’t understand that there is nothing more precious than a human life. While you lose about 1,500 people in combat operations per day.” The head of state was asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin told him under what circumstances he would consider the goals of Russia’s SMO fulfilled. "You know, we did not discuss the topic with him in this spirit, but I dare to express my position. The goals of the SMO have already been fulfilled. Ukraine will never be as aggressive towards Russia after the end of this war as it was before the war. Ukraine will be different. First, there will be people in power who are more cautious, smarter, more cunning, if you like. Intelligent people. Who will understand that the neighbors are given by God and that you need to build relations with them," the President said. "I'm sure of it. The future Ukraine will not dance to the tune of the United States. This is my understanding. I am absolutely convinced that Putin thinks so too. I think that's how he understands the process. This is a big lesson not only for Ukraine but also for Russia. For us, for the whole world. That's a great lesson. We will learn from it. Russia will too," the Belarusian leader stressed. The head of state answered the journalist's question on the thesis of ever-increasing hatred between peoples, in particular Ukrainians against Russians. “Most likely, and I am expressing my point of view, all this was seen differently before. Today we have wised up, drawing lessons from these events. Yes, it is true and everything you said appears to be the case. We have angered nations against each other. Moreover, the position of Ukrainians and Russians seems irreconcilable to us. Belarusians are also involved in this,” the head of state said. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that in this regard he always cites the example of atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War. “The wounds have healed. The Soviet Union had good relations with Germany. Both Ukraine and Belarus, which was practically wiped off the face of the earth, built relations with Germany. Why shouldn’t we build relations with Ukraine? We will,” the Belarusian leader emphasized. “If we talk about it and do not act, we are unlikely to achieve anything. We have to act. The first step is to sit down at the negotiating table. Well, we may spend the first day looking at each other with hatred. But then we will start talking. Things went the same way in Gomel, in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in Istanbul [the rounds of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in 2022]. That is how it was. It started with everybody arguing bitterly. And then they started discussing specific issues. But the United States told Vladimir Zelensky to stop negotiations and continue the war, the President said. The President is sure that only at the negotiating table it is possible to find a solution to the situation, and it should be done with the participation of all the stakeholders and the world’s powers. “It should not be like it was in Saudi Arabia [ the negotiations on a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, which took place in early August 2023 with the participation of a number of countries]. Russia was not there. What kind of negotiations are these? What did you decide to negotiate without the presence of all the parties involved in the conflict? I mean that those who feel that they should be at the negotiating table, should be there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. In June 2023 Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov said that the talks were in the pipeline and pointed to Belarus’ possible participation in the negotiation process. “Is it some sort of a veiled invitation to you to join the talks if they take place?” the journalist asked the head of state. “You should address this question to Danilov,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The President added that he had heard the statement. “We border on Ukraine. We are ‘co-aggressors’ as your country and the West call us. Of course, we have our interests there, and our position should be heard. I believe that Belarus should be involved in the negotiation process (the level of its involvement is not discussed today),” the head of state said. In his words, Belarus’ participation in the peace talks will bring positive results. “I think our participation is quite possible,” the President said. In an interview with Diana Panchenko Aleksandr Lukashenko talked about contacts of the Belarusian side with Ukraine’s special services and about the topics raised during these negotiations. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “As for whether negotiations are in progress or not. They certainly are. We’ve met with representatives of your authorities about five times probably.” “When was the last time?” Diana Panchenko asked for clarification. “The last time was several months ago. These negotiations were initiated by the GUR [Central Intelligence Office of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry]. They focused on whether Belarus will join the war in the future, whether Belarus will fight or not on the side of Russia in the north. And many other matters,” the President noted. He also remarked that the Ukrainian side has been recently interested in matters concerning the potential use of nuclear weapons and the deployment of the private military company (PMC) Wagner in Belarus. “These questions accumulated. But we had these contacts and we talked. We don’t mind. Proposals have been put forward now: ‘Let’s meet in Istanbul or the Emirates’. I said: ‘Guys, are you crazy? We are just over the border from you. Feel free to come to Brest or anywhere you like. To Gomel, Mozyr, any place. To Minsk. And we will organize a conversation with you. Why do you suggest that we should go somewhere, to Turkiye or the Emirates?’ These are good countries. We don’t mid. But we can have negotiations here,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “Then Zelensky noticed some threat to those, who were organizing these negotiations (so-called political competition). He forbade them to have this dialogue. We know via intelligence agencies, special services, including military ones, they conduct these negotiations with Russians in Ukraine. And positions are explained. Russia’s to Ukraine and Ukraine’s to Russia. Ukrainians have contacts with us and contacts with them, with Russia. A foundation for these negotiations is available. Let’s talk. But your politicians will get themselves in trouble. Not Putin, not Russia but Ukraine’s military will overthrow this political elite led by Zelensky. You’ll see. Because the military see the futility of what is going on there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. The journalist asked the head of state what can force Belarus to get fully involved in the war in Ukraine. “If you, Ukrainians, do not cross our border, we will never get involved in this war. In this hot war. Yet, we will keep helping Russia - they are our ally. You know that 55 countries are helping you with coordination, training, ammunition, weapons, and so on. And only Belarus is openly helping Russia,” Aleksandr Lukashenko replied. Diana Panchenko, in turn, noted that they often say in Ukraine that Vladimir Putin is pushing the President of Belarus to get involved in the war. “It’s complete nonsense. Do you know why? Because it makes no sense. An additional 70,000 troops will change nothing,” the head of state emphasized. “They have enough manpower and firepower. Therefore, getting Belarus involved... How will it help them? You tell me what is the point of us joining the fight against Ukraine? There is no point.” Diana Panchenko recalled the recent statement by the head of state regarding possible plans for Ukraine’s admission to NATO in separate parts and the transfer of some of its territory to Poland. “Will Western Ukraine become part of Poland?” the journalist asked the President. “I don’t think so. I think that Ukrainians themselves will not let it happen. Zelensky is moving towards this: you have taken some decision to give Polish police officers or civil servants nearly the same rights as Ukrainian ones have,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Such narratives are circulating in the media landscape to prepare people for this,” Diana Panchenko noted. “Yes, that’s what I hear. Moreover, units have already been formed in Poland - a military unit to help Ukraine. If they come in, they will not go away, because Americans are standing behind Poland. Well, this will be Polish territory. Why would NATO not accept them in this case? It will already be Polish territory. They will use this as an argument. Therefore, everything is being prepared for this. And you, journalists, were the first to speak up about it. You said what we, politicians, had just started to see. Therefore, such preparations are underway. This is unacceptable for us and for Russians. It is necessary to preserve Ukraine’s integrity, so that the country will not be sliced up and divided by other countries. Negotiations come next. You see, that’s what should be done first. You, Ukrainians, need it,” the head of state emphasized. “We do. We need peace, everyone needs peace,” the journalist agreed. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “There can be only one threat: aggression against our country. If aggression against our country is launched from the side of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, we will immediately respond with everything we have. You see we have something. And the strike will be unacceptable. We don’t compete with them. NATO stands behind Poland, Lithuania, Latvia. We certainly understand that the forces are incomparable. But we will deliver an unacceptable strike against them and they will receive unacceptable harm, damage. It is what our security concept is based on.” The President went on saying: “The nuclear weapons deployed in Belarus will definitely not be used unless we face aggression. If only an act of aggression is committed against us, an attack against Belarus, we will not tarry, wait, and the rest. We will use the entire arsenal of our weapons for deterrence. Why? Belarus is not Russia. Belarus cannot observe and wait for something. There is a great distance between Brest and Vladivostok but our territory can be captured within a month and there will be nothing left. This is why we will not tarry and watch. Once aggression is committed against us, we will follow the plan. I have publicly approved the plans but, of course, I haven’t revealed their content. We will respond with everything we have. And we didn’t bring nuclear weapons here in order to scare someone. Yes, nuclear weapons represent a strong deterring factor. But these are tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones. This is why we will use them immediately once aggression is launched against us.” Yet Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that Belarusians are not crazy and would not like to use nuclear weapons. If no aggression is committed against Belarus, nuclear weapons will never be used. “Can the nuclear weapons be used against Ukraine under these conditions?” the reporter asked for clarification. “Not only the nuclear weapons [will be used] against Ukraine if it commits aggression against us. We have something else in addition to the nuclear weapons. And we will not warn you that we will deliver a strike on decision-making centers once you cross red lines. It will be done without a warning. This is why leave us alone. We leave you alone and you should leave us alone. I mean Ukraine least of all. I mean primarily those crazies in the West, who are already making preparations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. According to the head of state, the events in Ukraine have taught people a lesson and have shown that a clash of military blocs should be avoided. “Ukraine is showing that this is a terrible thing. And NATO’s war with Russia and Belarus would mean a world war involving nuclear weapons. It would be much worse than in Ukraine. Therefore, this must be averted. I know for sure that the West does not want a nuclear war indeed. Because no one will be able to survive in this war: Russia has the world’s biggest stocks of nuclear warheads, the United States of America has about the same. It will be an all-embracing war that will not spare anyone. No one wants to die, everyone wants to live at least the way we live now, and hope for the best. Even now, I do not see any reasons for such a war to begin,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Diana Panchenko said that the idea that the Russian government is weak after events involving PMC Wagner is being actively promoted in Ukraine. “I quote: Putin is no longer the person we used to know. There is another version claiming that all of it was staged. A performance designed to reveal traitors and give reasons to move PMC Wagner to Belarus for the sake of a consequent march on Kiev. What out of it is true?” the reporter wondered. “First things first. As for Putin is no longer the person we used to know. Putin is absolutely not the person we used to know. His personal traits have been multiplied. Recent times have taught a lot to everyone, including to Putin. He is no longer his old self. He is now wiser and more cunning, I’ll have you know. If someone thinks that Putin has been weakened by Prigozhin’s mutiny, it is total nonsense. Putin is now more mobilized, more cunning, and wiser. Our adversaries need to know it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Speaking about claims that the mutiny was staged, the President stated that only crazy people can call it that because the event did colossal damage. “This narrative appeared right away. But it is not promoted anywhere except for Ukraine. It was not staged at all,” he remarked. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the initiative to deploy PMC Wagner in Belarus had been his. It had not come from Russia’s leadership or anyone else. The possibility was discussed and decided on during negotiations with Yevgeny Prigozhin as one of the security guarantees. “It was my proposal. In order to quell this munity, to put out this fire, it was necessary to accept any conditions because the mutiny could have been devastating to everyone. You say that the West and Americans may have felt joy about this mutiny at first. But later on they came to their senses and say now: ‘Thank god, this variant didn’t come to be.’ Why? Because they were concerned about nuclear weapons most of all. Who will possess nuclear weapons? PMC Wagner? Yevgeny Prigozhin? Things could have been terrible. This is why even the most vicious enemies of ours didn’t want this turn of events and this mutiny,” he noted. Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that similar mutinies are unlikely to happen in Russia in the foreseeable future. “Russia could have quelled this so-called mutiny. At the cost of a lot of blood. But I think it could have handled it. Right up to removing army units from the front. But it would have handled it. But this very march indicates that it is impossible and unnecessary. Frankly speaking, the next mutineers will be afraid to make such attempts after they draw conclusions from this mutiny,” the President said. “As for Putin’s overthrow that Zelensky and his supporters desire, they may try. Let them try. If they don’t have enough problems as it is, they will get even more problems. Nobody will overthrow Putin today,” the Belarusian leader stressed. According to the journalist, Vladimir Zelensky was very upset by the deterioration of relations with Aleksandr Lukashenko. “He took it hard, despite the fact that Ukraine introduced sanctions faster than the EU, as you said then. Is there anything you want to tell him?” she asked. “I can tell him only one thing today. I would say to him: Volodya, the war is going on in your country, on your land. You must do everything to prevent things from getting worse. Yes, whatever happened, happened. Those who are to blame will have to face the music. But this should be stopped now. The developments should not take a further turn for the worse. It will be worse, first of all, for Ukraine. This is the only thing I want to say to him today. I want him to hear it. And that’s something to begin with,” the Belarusian leader replied. In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that he has not yet decided whether he will run for President in the next election. “I haven't made any decisions yet, honestly. Perhaps it may look like some kind of couldn’t-care-less attitude on my part, but I have so many issues to solve right now. As soon as the time comes to make a decision, I will do it. Right now, I need to make sure the country holds out in the current situation, does not get involved in a mess, as people say. I have to guide my people on this very thin, fragile ice, so that we don’t fall through. This is the most important thing for me now. Both my future and the future of the next government depend on this. This is what I am doing right now. Honestly, I have not thought about it, and even in my family circle we have not discussed this topic. It is not the time to think about it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. During the interview Diana Panchenko shared her impressions of Minsk. She said that she liked the atmosphere of order and security in the city. She expressed her hope that Belarusians understood the main value and their main resource - peace. “I have a question (and maybe you have an answer): what will happen to all this without Lukashenko?” Diana Panchenko asked. Very soon the country will have elections to the parliament and the Belarusian People's Congress. The President said he would do everything to help Belarusians determine their future. “I will be persuading my people. I will be telling my people the truth. Our people themselves understand what can happen. They understand that we can lose this island of peace and tranquility,” he said. “Every time I come to Minsk, I see well-maintained streets and perfect roads. Walking around Minsk I sometimes get the impression of being in Kiev, the one it could have been and the one it once used to be. Although the cities may not be alike, but the feeling is exactly the same,” Diana Panchenko said. “Putting it simply, what and when did we do wrong?” “Things went wrong when you started plundering Ukraine. If you want to preserve the integrity of the country, there must be unity, there must be a core. First of all, a state one, like we have. We are always criticized for this vertical of power, ‘dictatorship’ and so on. But it is precisely this and, as you call it, dictatorship, discipline, and order that contributed to the consolidation of the entire nation. We managed to explain everything to our people, to tell them what should be done, including today. I often say: if you do not want to fight like Ukraine, let us work hard in the fields. People hear me,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Ukraine started to fall apart when oligarchs began getting the best pieces, the President said. According to him, this created numerous centers of power, including those supported by security and law enforcement agencies. It was difficult for the government to resist it. “Ukraine ended up divided. You began to play in democracy, elect all kinds of people, re-elect. You eroded the responsibility by such actions of yours. Everything however started with your thoughtless privatization. You dismantled Ukraine and hurt people. Ukrainians were terribly dissatisfied with that situation. Everything started from there. The economy was the backbone for everything,” the head of state is convinced. “You have destroyed the richest, most beautiful country.” Then the oligarchs went into politics and brought certain people to the country’s highest posts. “When a politician has a lot of money in his pocket, he is not independent,” the Belarusian leader said. “Haven’t you ever thought of buying a yacht and going to Monaco?” the journalist asked. “I have never had such thoughts. I am not that kind of person at all. A yacht, the heat, the sun – it is not my thing. It’s better to go to the mountains in winter. There is no better place than Sochi. We have a governmental base, a hotel there. I don't need anything else,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “I hate money, as I grew up in a poor family and always lacked it. I am a different person by nature. I can find my happiness at home, in Belarus.” Aleksandr Lukashenko said he believes that Vladimir Putin will be reelected as Russia’s President: “I think that Putin will be Russia’s next President. The election will be held in six months. No one can challenge Putin now”. The journalist quoted the head of state who said in a 2020 interview that Vladimir Putin would step down before 2036 and those who would take over his role would continue Russia’s development course. “Do you think there is such a person?” the journalist asked. “I think so. And I believe that if Putin does not see this person now, he will find this person in the near future,” the Belarusian leader is convinced. At the same time, the President of Belarus believes that Vladimir Putin is not focused on this matter now, because he has so many issues to deal with. “The country is big, there are many other problems that need to be addressed,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained. During the interview, Diana Panchenko noted that today Ukrainians blame the Russians for all their troubles. In her opinion, Ukraine was made a "country of hatred" long before the events of 2022. "They did it deliberately. It was a public policy. How can we make sure that this does not happen to Belarusians?" she asked the head of state. The President believes that it is important to fight the information space as hard as possible. "We fight on this battlefield as hard as we can. You know, I won't say that we are winning but we are not losing yet, because, probably, the truth always wins after all. If you tell lies, then you won't win," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "If we analyze everything that has happened between our peoples, between our countries in recent years, then we see that they worked persistently, methodically to make sure that Ukrainians learn less and less about Belarusians, about Russians and vice versa. It turns out that people who once lived in the same country know absolutely nothing about each other today. For example, many Ukrainians are sure that every Russian, waking up, thinks about how to kill as many Ukrainians as possible. Don't you think that today exactly the same process is taking place in relation to Russia and Belarus on the one hand and Europe on the other? Aren't they preparing us just as systematically for something big and terrible?" the journalist said. The President did not rule out that this is possible: "If you conquer other people's minds, then you will win any war in the future. Therefore, they might be preparing for this by waging this war on our minds. But it is the job of any government to counteract this, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how unequal the forces are. But it's better to fight like this than with missiles." "It is difficult to fight this information war but we must. Otherwise, we will have to fight the way Russia and Ukraine are doing. Therefore, we are trying, resisting, doing everything possible," the head of state added. “Tactic is to reach every person, reach out to them, and talk to them. This is the most important area of our work. People will appreciate it. In particular, I try to meet with people, talk to them, to explain things." In an interview Aleksandr Lukashenko said that Ukraine's first step towards the country's recovery should be a step towards peace. “There should be a step towards peace. Yes, you can fight for these territories. I am not saying that they should be left behind. A different tactic should be chosen however: while fighting for these territories, you may lose others,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The President is convinced that Ukraine will definitely recover: “It is a great country, with hardworking people. I often say to some of my colleagues to go and learn from the Ukrainians. The country has rich traditions. All this must be restored today. A lot must be done and they need to start. Ukraine will be Ukraine. The country cannot be poor on such a land, but they must take the first steps. And the first step should be the one to stop the war.” “The war must be stopped. When a war is raging, when you are distracted, when so many people are dying, your relatives, loved ones, what can you think about? What wealth can you think about? What kind of housing to build? Or maybe how to take care of your land plot? What can you think about when you know that tomorrow you can be grabbed in the street and sent to the front? You will only think about the ways to avoid that fate. Only those who can pay their way out of the military enlistment office do not fight in your country. Everything can be settled with the help of money in your country. It is awful. You need to restore order in your country,” the head of state emphasized. He believes that Ukraine needs to rebuild life from the very bottom, with the main principle - fair treatment of a person – to be at the core. “You need to rebuild your economy. But first you need to provide your people with food and clothes. It is that where we started in 1991. Our economy stalled then. We worked hard to save jobs, and we saved these enterprises. Ukraine needs to go through this now. Ukraine can do this. It has a much better location than Belarus in terms of natural resources and climatic conditions. The country can do this even in these difficult conditions. But they need to make the first step, and the first step is peace,” the Belarusian leader said.

Defense & Security
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Negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

The meeting of the presidents of Belarus and Russia, Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin, took place in St. Petersburg on 23 July. The heads of state arrived at Konstantinovsky Palace together.  "Aleksandr Grigorievich, we are meeting today as agreed...", the Russian leader began the protocol part of the meeting. The Belarusian president remarked: "We agreed on the meeting six months ago."  "It's true. That's right. We agreed about this a long time ago," Vladimir Putin noted. “We are meeting in St. Petersburg today. The weather is good. It is a Sunday afternoon, but we always have something to talk about. At the beginning of the meeting, I would like to note that all our plans are being implemented, even at a better pace than we expected." The Russian leader noted the good state of the economies of the two countries, the expected economic growth by the end of the year: "I looked at the latest data. The Belarusian economy is expected to grow by 3.7% in 2023. These are the projected figures, but still. Our growth forecasts are a little lower. But this is a good indicator for us too. We expect the growth of more than 2%. Unemployment is low. In general, all the main indicators give us reason to believe that we will pass this year well and will have good growth." "Our plans in terms of the Union State are being fully implemented. We are moving confidently in all areas. Trade is growing. According to various sources, the data vary a little. According to our data, it is around $43.7 billion, if we speak in dollar terms. According to Belarusian statistics, it is almost $45 billion," the Russian president said. Aleksandr Lukashenko said that the cost of services provided should be into account too. "You are right," the Russian president concurred. The presidents also noted the successful operation of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Its second unit has already been launched this year.  "We have made progress, satisfactory progress, to put it modestly. Of course, we will also talk about security issues in the region. I hope that today and tomorrow we will have the opportunity to discuss all this in an informal setting, in great detail," Vladimir Putin said. In his opening remarks, Aleksandr Lukashenko touched upon many issues, including the course of the special military operation, the lack of results of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and NATO's military build-up in Poland. Another important topic is plans for the development of economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia. "We won't be able to do it in a day. Therefore, we will meet tomorrow. As far as I understand, you will find time for us to talk," the Belarusian president said addressing his counterpart. "Of course. I changed some of my plans. We can spend one and a half to two days," Vladimir Putin confirmed. "Great! We will settle these issues in a day and a half. Thank you for finding the time for the meeting we agreed six months ago. Therefore, there is nothing extraordinary here. We have been planning the meeting for a long time. When a need arises, we meet and discuss our tactical and strategic issues," the Belarusian head of state said. "As for the economy, I would like to suggest that our governments think through some kind of economic plan. The point is self-reliance. We will not kowtow to anyone. We have got brains. Resources are more than enough. We need a plan for the development of our Fatherland. As I say: two states, one Fatherland. We can do it. The main forces have been here, in Russia, since old times. It will be good if our governments come up with such a plan," the head of state said.  "Even if things are a little worse off, people will understand and support us. Because there will be the light at the end of the tunnel," the Belarusian leader said.  The countries have already begun to work in this direction, advancing cooperation in all areas, including in microelectronics, space, and agriculture. "We see good results everywhere. So we need to put everything together into a plan, appoint people in charge. Thus we will do our job strategically," the Belarusian president said. Aleksandr Lukashenko brought a map showing the deployment of Polish troops at the border of the Union State to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The head of state noted that one of the Polish brigades is now deployed 40km away from Brest, another - about 100km away from Grodno. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that there is no Ukrainian counteroffensive. "No, there is. It's just failed," the Russian president said. "It failed indeed. There are no results," the Belarusian leader confirmed. “What's next? They, as you said recently, have begun to engage Poland. They are making active use of mercenaries. I brought you a map showing the deployment of the Polish Armed Forces at the borders of the Union State, which you talked about. We see that they are setting the stage. One of the brigades has been deployed 40km away from Brest. They used to be 500km away, now the distance is 40km. We see it all. Another brigade has been deployed a little more than 100km away from Grodno. They have a division, but so far these are brigades. Poland opened a facility to repair Leopards on their territory. Rzeszow is becoming more active. The Americans are using its airfield to send hardware and so on.” The head of state noted the increased militarization of Poland, the deployment of significant forces to the borders of the Union State. "Naturally, Poland wants something in return. It's clear it will get money, weapons. This is understandable. But now there is a lot of talking ‘to admit Ukraine into NATO in parts’. You also noted this. What's behind it? This is a smokescreen," the president said. “Tear off western Ukraine. Under the guise of admission to NATO, so that the population is ok with that."    "They want to chop off western Ukraine and annex it to Poland. This is a payment to Poland for its active participation in this operation against the Russian army. The Americans support this," the Belarusian leader added. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko lauded the successes of the Russian army in the special military operation.  "Yesterday was a difficult day. This is according to our data. You will also share your opinion on this. It was a very difficult day. Fortunately, it ended well. According to our data, more than 15 Leopards [German-made tanks] and more than 20 Bradleys [US infantry fighting vehicles] were destroyed in one battle. This, I think, has never happened before," the head of state said.  “On the other side they used units fully equipped with foreign hardware," Vladimir Putin said. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the destruction of such a number of hardware also testifies to the heavy losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: "We can estimate how many soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine died considering the number of destroyed hardware. I know this because I served as an officer in the armored army back in the day. Therefore, I understand what it means to destroy so many infantry fighting vehicles and, most importantly, much vaunted Leopards.” The Belarusian president cited the U.S. estimates which indicate that the Armed Forces of Ukraine lost 26,000 soldiers since the start of the counteroffensive. "More," Vladimir Putin responded. "It's already more. Well, a week ago they estimated Ukraine’s irretrievable losses at over 26,000. From 4 June [from the launch of the counteroffensive]. I put their data down," the Belarusian president said. "Even more," the Russian leader said affirmatively.  Aleksandr Lukashenko continued: "Yesterday showed that this is the war against the entire NATO. They arm them; send a lot of mercenaries there. Yesterday was an important day because they made use of the main strategic reserves. This suggests that this thoughtless policy of throwing untrained people and mercenaries into hell will lead nowhere. During the meeting, Vladimir Putin noted that foreign mercenaries also suffer significant losses. "Huge losses. Because of their tactics," Aleksandr Lukashenko said.  "Because of their stupidity," the Russian leader replied. "They move in groups," the Belarusian president said. In turn, Vladimir Putin stressed that people of the countries whose governments are sending people to the war zone should also be aware of what is happening. "We will communicate this to the people so that they assess the actions of their rulers," he said. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko thanked the Russian president for the security guarantees to Belarus. "I would like to thank you. You are the first person in Russia who spoke about this openly and clearly. Aggression against Belarus will be like an attack on Russia. We take this into account in the construction of our Armed Forces," the head of state said during at the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. The presidents of Belarus and Russia toured the landmarks in Kronstadt after the official part of the talks in Konstantinovsky Palace. The heads of state first came to the Island of Forts Museum and Historical Park. There they were shown the main exhibit - the first Soviet nuclear submarine K-3 "Leninsky Komsomol". She was delivered to the Museum of Naval Glory in Kronstadt from Murmansk Oblast in the autumn of 2022. Another point of the joint informal program of the presidents was a visit to the Stavropegic St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in Kronstadt, also known as the Naval Cathedral of St. Nicholas.

Defense & Security
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Session of Belarus’ Security Council

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko has convened the Security Council. A number of matters concerning efforts to ensure Belarus’ national security are on the agenda. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “Due to the tense situation in the world and directly at our borders, due to the sanctions-fueled pressure we cannot be absolutely calm and confident in tomorrow. NATO countries persistently pursue an expansionist policy, build up military presence around Belarus, and constantly stage provocative exercises at our borders in addition to taking other actions. They have already gone so far that their military personnel violate the state border. Well, we will clarify it today.” The President went on saying: “They justify their actions by some threats that allegedly originate from Belarus’ territory. The leaders of Poland and the Baltic states accuse Belarus of some mythic aggressive intensions that we’ve never had and cannot have.” He stated that the leaders of these countries are also whipping up hysteria around the presence of personnel of the private military company (PMC) Wagner in Belarus’ territory. “They went as far as to demand their immediate withdrawal from Belarus. At the same time, they themselves are increasing military budgets, amassing large military formations at our border,” he noted. “Everything is simple: neither Poland, nor Lithuania nor other Baltic countries should have a single foreign military officer or soldier on their territory. Only in this case they have the right to protest against the presence of the military from other countries here. Otherwise, these are unreasonable and stupid demands (not even requests and proposals, but demands).” In addition to that, in April Warsaw announced its decision to suspend its Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty obligations in relation to Belarus, though this is actually the last legally binding international document in the field of arms control. “This is already a dangerous step, and we should keep reminding Poland’s leadership about this - so that their decisions will not come back to hurt them,” the Belarusian leader said. “How should we respond to this? I’m not even talking about the training of our self-exiled opposition on their territory for a military coup in Belarus. I want to warn once again that we will not hesitate to respond. Though, credit where credit is due, our self-exiled opposition members in Poland, Lithuania and especially in Ukraine understand what for they are being used,” the President added. At the same time Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that Belarus is ready to restore good relations with its neighbors, who cannot be chosen as he says. “However, in response to all our messages we hear only accusations and threats. It means that they don’t need any normalization at all,” he pointed out. In confirmation of what was said and in order to rule out any insinuations, Belarus has invited Poland’s representatives to observe the Collective Security Treaty Organization exercise Combat Brotherhood 2023, which will begin in Brest Oblast on 1 September. In this context the head of state suggested looking into a number of matters relating to efforts to ensure national security.