Subscribe to our weekly newsletters for free

Subscribe to an email

If you want to subscribe to World & New World Newsletter, please enter
your e-mail

Defense & Security
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia's President Vladimir Putin

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. <…>

Defense & Security
President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko

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
President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko handshaking with President of Russia Vladimir Putin

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
Aleksandr Lukashenko at Session of Belarus Security Council

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.

Defense & Security
Pedro Sánchez Prime Minister of Spain

The president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, has delivered this speech in the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament

by Pedro Sánchez

Thank you very much.  Dear Mr. Speaker Stephanchuk, Distinguished Members of the Verjovna Rada,Excellencies, dear friends. I am very grateful to be here today, on this very special day for my country. Today, 1st July,  Spain assumes the great responsibility of becoming the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the next six months. And I wanted that the very first thing I did in my new capacity was to address the people of Ukraine through their Verjovna Rada. I wanted to tell you that we are and will be with you as long as it takes. I wanted to tell you that we will support Ukraine no matter the price to pay. That we will be with you in the achievement of your aspirations to be a free and sovereign  country that decides its own destiny as a member of the European family. In short, I am here to express the firm determination of Europeans and Europe to fight against the illegal, unjustifiable and unjustified Russian aggression to Ukraine. Once again, I have the honour to address all of you in this temple of Ukrainian democracy. My first address took place in February, on the first anniversary of Russia’s aggression against your sovereignty and territorial integrity. Things have changed since then. Today Ukraine is in the midst of the counter-offensive against an enemy that is showing signs of weakness. We have all seen the events of last week. They speak for themselves. And, if one side shows weakness, it is because in front of him there is someone who shows the opposite: determination. It's what I can see, right here, and right now: determination, strength and courage. What I can see is a whole country that refuses to be subjected and fights for its independence with immense dignity. I know the price to pay is enormous. Especially in human lives lost. Nothing I can say here today can comfort a family that has lost a daughter, a son, a mother, a father or a husband. Men and women who gave their lives defending a free and democratic Ukraine.  Still, I want to do it from the bottom of my heart on behalf of my country, Spain. A country that mourns with you. A country that condemns every Russian attack against Ukrainian civilians, like the one at Kramatorsk. Victoria Amelina, a Ukrainian writer was there. Severely injured, now fights for her life. Victoria was close to the front line, because she wanted to document the tragedy. She wanted to collect the memory of infamy. The lost heritage. The broken lives. The crimes committed. We need women Victoria Amelina, to write history. To tell the facts as they happened and preserve the memory of those who suffer this tragedy. Excellencies, dear friends, we do not forget that the European aspiration of the Ukrainian people was one of the excuses that triggered the Russian reaction and, in turn, the invasion. It was only fair to honour this aspiration by granting you the status of candidate to the European Union. No one deserves it more than you, than Ukraine. However, I know that this is not an easy process, especially with an ongoing war. To become a member state requires changes, reforms and sacrifices. Not long ago, Spain faced this challenge as a candidate country. But, let me tell you, that the process to become an European Union member taught us important lessons. One of them is that undertaking reforms has a value in itself. Reforms make your governance and your economy better, more modern and transparent. They bolster international confidence and proximity. They attract investment. And, in time, they will grant you access to our European Union. A Union, which is more than just the largest internal market in the world. Which is, above all, a community of values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Last week, the European Commission made a positive assessment of Ukrainians, of Ukraine’s progress concerning the required reforms. I congratulate you for the progress made, especially thanks to the legislative work of this Rada, and I encourage you to keep up with it. It is worth the effort. Congratulations. And of course we will be eagerly awaiting the report of the European Commission in the fall, which will set the basis for the future. Excellencies, We want a just and lasting peace in Ukraine. Only Ukraine can set terms and times for peace negotiations. Other countries and regions are proposing peace plans. The involvement is much appreciated, but, at the same time, we cannot accept them entirely. This is a war of aggression, with an aggressor and a victim. They cannot be treated equally. And ignoring the rules should in no way be rewarded. That is why we support President Zelenski’s peace formula, which is respectful with International Law and the UN Charter. Ukraine is paying a heavy prize in terms of destruction of cities and infrastructure. So, we need to make sure that the country is rebuilt, thus creating the conditions for its growth and prosperity. And we have already started. Today, Spain has decided to dedicate another 55 million euros, including offering 51 M€ through the World Bank Group to help finance Small and Medium Enterprises in Ukraine, as well as 4 M€ to the UN Development Program to provide schools in Ukraine with green-friendly and resilient energy systems. Reconstruction will take time and investment in many sectors. Spain is committed to accompanying Ukraine in this process. There are some areas, such as the railway infrastructure, in which our companies have the know-how that can make the difference. The Spanish government will support finance the necessary investments to adapt and upgrade infrastructures and productive sectors in your country. Yet, we understand that reconstruction and prosperity will only arrive if real, long-term security is achieved. My friends, in my view, it is clear that we cannot rely on the promises made after the Cold War anymore. We have to adapt to a different security environment, one in which concepts like peace, sovereignty or territorial integrity can no longer be taken for granted. The aggression on Ukraine has shown us that they need to be effectively defended. Not just with words, but with facts. Therefore, we will need to rethink the security framework to ensure that your country, Ukraine, will be able to live free from aggression or intimidation. As the President said, we are approaching the NATO Summit in Vilnius, which will follow on the commitments we made last year, in Madrid, the capital of Spain. Spain supports enhancing the political participation of Ukraine through the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council, where you will no longer be an invitee, but a member, a full member. We are also in favour of enhancing the practical cooperation, to continue to adapt your defence sector to NATO Standards. These are, my friends, big steps forward that will be further discussed during the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius. Spain will continue to do its part as well: we are delivering more Leopard tanks, armoured personnel carriers and a field hospital with surgical capacity. We also continue to reach out to other countries and continents, to explain what is really happening here in Ukraine, but also to listen to their concerns, especially those related to food and energy security or insecurity, in this case. Excellencies, Last February, before my trip to Kyiv, someone in Madrid, in my city, was  wondering about the Ukrainian’s state of mind and asked me: “Do you think they are afraid?”. When I came back, after the visit, I had a clear answer to this question and I told them: Look, they are not afraid. They are going to win. It will take them weeks, or months. It will take tears, blood and sweat, but Ukraine is going to win this war. And they asked me “Pedro, Pedro, why?, why?”. And I said, “Because there are two battles. One happens in the battlefield. The other happens in the mind, because it’s a battle of ideas. And that one, the Ukrainian people have already won it”. Ukraine has chosen democracy in the face of those who despise it. Ukraine has chosen openness and freedom, in the face of those who fear it. Ukraine has chosen to sit, and discuss, and vote, and change, and evolve, in the face of those who only believe in force and obedience. Ukraine has chosen to be independent, to move freely, to trade, to invest, to prosper, to have hope, in the face of those who still have delusional dreams about old empires. The Ukrainian people have chosen the European way. The Ukrainian people ARE, you are Europeans. And you are Europeans not only because of a geographical imperative. You are Europeans by moral and spiritual commitment. So, dear friends. During this years, I have learned many things about Ukraine. Even some Ukrainian words. For instance, I have learned that "Mriya" (emriya) means “dream” in English, we say in Spanish Sueño. That was the name of the largest plane in the world, located at the Hostomel airfield when it was destroyed by Russian troops in February 2022. That plane brought medical supplies during the pandemic or carried humanitarian aid in natural disasters. It was a symbol, a pride for Ukraine. They destroyed the symbol, but they couldn’t destroy the idea. Now, I have learnt that Ukrainian engineers are already working on the reconstruction of that giant of the skies. Let me tell you that you are not just rebuilding an airplane: you are rebuilding a dream. One day, that dream will cross the skies again. And from there, here on the ground, we will see a new Ukraine reborn from the ashes of destruction. That’s what you fight for. You fight for peace, for security and prosperity for your children. And every Ukrainian soldier knows it. Russian soldiers fight because they are scared they will be punished if they don’t. They ask themselves everyday “what are we doing here?”. You are united, you stand on the moral high ground. They even rebel, as we saw a few days ago. That’s why they cannot win and you cannot lose. I came here today to tell you that Europe is open to those who make the choice. The European Union was built to prevent new wars. We chose to get together, to be “united in diversity”, and that made us stronger. Europe is with you, and you are one with Europe. Mui Yevropa! [¡Somos Europa!] Slava Ukraini [¡Viva Ucrania!]

Defense & Security
Charles Michel, President of the European Council

Video message of President Charles Michel for the Third Summit of the Crimea Platform

by Charles Michel

Dear President Zelenskyy, dear Ukrainian friends, Two years ago I represented the EU at the first international summit of the Crimea Platform. And I stated clearly that Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be fully restored. And this applied to Crimea and this applied to the region of Donetsk and Luhansk. And I stand by that today. Since Russia invaded your country, you have suffered nearly 550 days of death and destruction, and Crimea is being used as a strategic springboard to launch its brutal attacks. And last September, just like they did in Crimea, Russia tried to illegally annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and this is again a cynical attempt to grab more land, to steal the identity of Ukrainian citizens, to abduct your children and to drive people from their homeland, like they are doing to the Tatars. I pay tribute to Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people, who travelled to Saudi Arabia with you, President Zelenskyy, in search of peace. Russia is perfecting the toolbox of terror and persecution that they applied in Crimea over nine long years, and they are now committing atrocities in cities and villages in the whole of Ukraine, many amounting to war crimes. The EU will continue to call for full accountability for these crimes, including for the crime of aggression, and will not recognise any illegal attempt to change the status of Ukraine’s territories, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, because respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries is a basic principle of the UN Charter and that’s why we support you, President Zelenskyy, and your peace formula based on these very principles. In Ukraine you are fighting for your freedom, you are fighting for your future and for your homeland, and in the EU we know you are also fighting for our common values. And that’s why we have imposed massive sanctions against Russia and that’s why we are supporting you with weapons and ammunition, and we will strengthen this support. We are also helping to meet your humanitarian needs, and we are determined to back your country with strong financial support. We stand with you in your fight for freedom, and we will stand with you as you rebuild your country. Our total support for Ukraine amounts to more than €76 billion. And we are preparing a multiannual financing plan of roughly €50 billion. Russia also continues to weaponise food, including by blockading and attacking your seaports. And this cruel Russian tactic hits the most vulnerable around the globe hardest. In the EU we continue to support the efforts of the United Nations and Turkey to get the Black Sea Grain Initiative back up running. And we are also strengthening our Solidarity Lanes through the EU to help get Ukrainian agricultural products to global markets. Ladies and gentlemen, this war is also a fight for your future, for your dream of a bright, democratic and more prosperous future within the EU. Last year Ukraine received EU candidate status. So your European Union future is no longer a question of if, it is a question of when. And later this year, the European Council will discuss the possibility of opening accession negotiations. And I am confident that the Ukrainian people and the leaders will rise to this historic moment. You can count on my personal support, you can count on the EU. We will stand by your side for as long as it takes. Slava Ukraini!

Defense & Security
Karl Nehammer Chancellor of Austria

Nehammer sticks to his No to Schengen expansion

by Karl Nehammer

Work meeting with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Salzburg "I am very pleased that for the first time in over 10 years a Chancellor of the Republic of Germany is back in Austria in an official capacity. We are not only neighbours, but also closely interwoven culturally or in matters of economic relations. If we look at our border regions, they are in fact no longer border regions, because people have long since overcome these borders in the realities of their lives - whether as business people or when starting a family. And so, we have grown together a bit," said Chancellor Karl Nehammer at a joint press conference with Olaf Scholz at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. The German Chancellor made his first bilateral visit to Austria and was received with military honours. In addition to bilateral issues such as energy supply, the working meeting focused on the fight against irregular migration and border controls within the Schengen area. "The partnership with the Federal Republic of Germany is particularly important because we are very often allies in the question of how we want to shape European policy and further develop the EU, always bearing in mind that there may also be different interests. In addition to excellent economic relations, Germany is one of our most important partners in tourism. We therefore have many points of contact here," the chancellor noted. Strengthening security means gaining people's trust in the European project Politically and in terms of content, there are major challenges to be tackled together: on the one hand, the Russian Federation's war of aggression against Ukraine with all its consequences, and on the other hand, irregular migration. The two heads of government agreed that, in order to have efficient external border protection, we must be able to quickly return those who are not allowed to stay to their countries of origin. However, this also meant that stable and sustainable relations with the countries of origin had to be established and expanded and that prospects had to be created in these countries, the Chancellor said: "Germany and Austria are on the same side here. Because only if we have credible external border protection and fast and swift asylum procedures, and if we can ensure order and security within the European Union in an orderly manner, will we win people's trust in the European project." The topic of Schengen was also discussed. He said the chancellor presented the Austrian perspective and described how 112,000 asylum applications had been filed in Austria in 2022, 75 percent of which had been registered for the first time, even though the applicants had crossed an EU country. "In Austria, the numbers are decreasing, but at the same time they are increasing in Germany. We are a community of solidarity within the EU, so we care about the numbers. And as long as the current Schengen system does not work, as you can clearly see from the border controls from Germany to Austria, we need joint efforts in Europe to strengthen the external border protection. We will therefore stand by Germany when it comes to pushing forward the Commission's measures," Nehammer said. He said there were steps in the right direction, such as pilot projects at the Romanian and Bulgarian borders and an agreement with Tunisia, which the chancellor believes will be forward-looking. Securing energy supply for the future with green hydrogen from Africa But Germany is also an important partner in the question of energy security. This year, Austria had already managed to fill its own gas storage facilities to 90 percent in August, to secure its gas supply and thus to strengthen its independence from Russia, the Chancellor said happily. This had also been achieved with the help of Germany, which had helped to set up gas alternatives. Work is underway on connectivity between Austria and Germany in order to benefit from the liquefied natural gas terminals that have been built, which will subsequently play an important role in Austria's security of supply. Germany will continue to be an important partner for Austria in the future when it comes to bringing green hydrogen to Austria via a pipeline infrastructure. For example, he said, a southern corridor is specifically planned with Italy to bring green hydrogen from Africa via Italy to Austria and Germany. "These are the issues that move us for the future - with the aim of becoming more independent of fossil energy, establishing security of supply for the people and continuing to work to ensure that the good partnership and friendship between our two nations within the European Union is developed further," the chancellor concluded.

Defense & Security
Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission

Keynote speech by President von der Leyen at the Philippines Business Forum

by Ursula Von der Leyen

Ladies and Gentlemen, It is very special for me to be in Manila and once again to experience first-hand the famous Filipino hospitality. Each time I visit, I am struck by the warmth, intelligence, and honesty of the people I meet. You make everyone feel at home, even 10,000 kilometres from home. While visiting your beautiful country, I have also learnt a proverb of yours. It says: ‘Be like a rice stalk: the more grain it bears, the lower it bows'. I believe a country's proverbs can tell a lot about its people.  And this proverb certainly describes the people of the Philippines: always humble, especially in success. Right now, the Philippines is booming. Thanks to your resilience, dynamism, and work ethic, your economy grew by close to 8% last year. You are among the fastest growing emerging markets. Your Development Plan, as outlined by President Marcos, is prioritising good governance, cutting red tape, and speeding up permitting for strategic investments, for example in renewables and semiconductors. Not only does this make the Philippines an even more attractive trade and investment destination for European firms, but Filipino companies are also beginning to thrive in the European market. IMI, for example, has expanded its micro-electronics business to become the 14th largest manufacturing solutions provider in Europe. Or consider the Philippine port-handling giant, ICTSI. It operates a container terminal in the Adriatic Sea, and recently signed another 30-year lease to operate a port in the Baltic. It is worth mentioning, as well, that there are around 50,000 Filipino sailors manning ships with European flags. You make trade happen. And you never boast about any of this. So allow me to begin by thanking all the Filipinos who are contributing every day to the friendship and economic partnership between Europe and the Philippines. These examples show that the ties between our countries are already strong. But the time has come to lift our partnership to the next level. Because we have much more in common than our geographic distance would suggest. I see three main fields where we share interests and values, and we are just made to work together. First of all, international security. Both the Philippines and Europe believe in a global order that is based on the principles of the UN Charter, such as the respect for every nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And this order is now threatened, in both our regions. Second, economic transformation. We are both modernising our economies, with a focus on the green and digital transitions. And in parallel, we are de-risking our trade and investment. Europe and the Philippines are natural economic partners more than ever before. And third, on democratic values. Because economic progress can only be coupled with social progress, for all people in our societies. Let me begin with security. The Philippines have helped build the rules-based global order, as a founding member of the United Nations, ASEAN, and the World Trade Organisation. And last year, you stood up to uphold the global order, when Russia sent its tanks into Ukraine. Both the European Union and the Philippines – along with over 140 countries – have clearly condemned Russia's war of aggression against a sovereign, independent member of the United Nations. And we Europeans will continue to support Ukraine and to uphold the UN Charter for as long as it takes. But another permanent member of the UN Security Council – China – has yet to assume fully its responsibility under the UN Charter to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. This is happening against the backdrop of China's more assertive stance in your region. Europe has constantly called on China to respect the sovereign rights of states within their exclusive economic zones. China's show of military force in the South and East China Seas and in the Taiwan Strait directly affects the Philippines and our other partners in the region. But it could also have global repercussions. And any weakening of regional stability in Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world, affects global security, the free flow of trade, and our own interests in the region. So whether we talk about Ukraine or about the South China Sea, our security is connected. That is why the EU has been enhancing its engagement in the Indo-Pacific. We aim to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, to reinforce respect of international law and address global challenges. With the Philippines, we are deepening our security partnership, particularly on maritime security and on cyber cooperation. And we want to do more.  Ladies and Gentlemen, We cannot choose our neighbours, but we can choose who we do business with, and on what terms. This leads me to my second point. We, Europeans, are clear-eyed when it comes to diversifying and de-risking our trade and investment. We made the mistake with Russia, thinking that we could manage our geopolitical differences through business. Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Europe relied heavily on energy imports from Russia. When the Kremlin started the war, Russia tried to blackmail us with cutting its gas supplies. 80% in eight months. This triggered a severe energy crisis, but we withstood. We saved energy, we diversified to like-minded partners, and we invested massively in home-grown renewable energy. Today, we are stronger than before and more independent. And we have learnt our lesson. We will not make the same mistake again. When it comes to the key inputs needed for our competitiveness, such as critical raw materials, we should never rely on one single supplier. This is the core of our de-risking strategy. And I know that this is not only Europe's strategy. The Philippines, for instance, exports 90% of its nickel ore to China, instead of processing it inside the country to create more jobs and added value. But this can change. That is also why I am here in Manila today. The Philippines and the EU have a major opportunity to step up our partnership on both trade and investments. Let me focus on investments, first. Europe has just launched a plan for boosting infrastructure investments in strategic sectors in partner countries. It is called Global Gateway, and for ASEAN, we have put forward an investment package worth EUR 10 billion in public funds until 2027. But it is not only about the money. It is also about the method. European investments come with the highest environmental and labour standards, as well as with a strong focus on creating local value chains. Take the raw materials examples. Unlike other foreign investors, we do not want to invest only in the extraction of raw materials. We can also support you in building local capacity for processing, powered by new clean energy infrastructure. Global Gateway seeks to create good jobs right here because this also strengthens our supply lines. Global Gateway seeks to promote investments that move Filipino sectors up the value-chain. And we look forward to working with the Asia Development Bank, based right here in Manila.  You are experts in the region, and we share similar priorities.  So it is only natural that we work hand-in-hand. Moreover, the Philippines are a natural leader in digital innovation. The Philippine Venture Capital Report of 2023 observed an explosion of new activity in the country's start-up ecosystem. Your e-commerce market value increased by 33% in the last three years alone. The people of the Philippines are five years younger than the global average. So it is no surprise that your economy is so dynamic. The Philippines can become a new digital hub in the region. But as entrepreneurs everywhere, Filipino entrepreneurs need infrastructure investment. This is where Global Gateway can truly make a difference. And we are already working on the ground, or rather, in space. Together with the Philippines Space Agency, we are building the first earth observation system in Southeast Asia. In parallel, Nokia is investing in 5G infrastructure. Why does this matter to Filipino innovators? Because the European Copernicus satellites will be made available for space-based services here in the Philippines, like disaster risk management against typhoons, or satellite navigation, which is fundamental for aviation, drones, and autonomous driving. This is part of a larger digital economy package that we are finalising with the government. We are even exploring a possible extension of the new fibre submarine cable that will connect Europe to Japan via the Arctic. We would create a direct data connection between our regions to de-risk and open up new opportunities for both our economies. New investments could also lead the way for more trade between Europe and the Philippines. The EU is your fourth largest trading partner, accounting for nearly 8% of your trade. This is thanks to our current trade preferences scheme. But there is much untapped potential in our trade relationship. Let me give you an example: A few months ago, I was in South Korea. There I saw the impressive positive impact of the trade deal we have concluded. In a little over a decade, EU trade with Korea has more than doubled. This is what happens when you give people and business the opportunity to work across borders. New doors open for innovation. And the most important: People benefit. So let us make progress. Our trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam are already delivering. And Europe wants to conclude free trade agreements with other ASEAN countries. I believe, like President Marcos, that the timing and conditions are right for us to solidify our bilateral trade relations. That is why we have taken the decision to relaunch our negotiations for a free trade agreement between the Philippines and the EU. Our teams will begin right away a scoping process to identify what we need to do to overcome any remaining gaps before we can get back to negotiating. This should take no more than a few months. Let us seize this window of opportunity, and make it work. Trade agreements today are about much more than eliminating tariffs and quotas. They are about shared commitments, values, and principles, including on human and labour rights. And this leads me to my last point. Our democracies – all of them – are work in progress. None of them is perfect. But they are all perfectible. Your new government has taken some important steps for human rights here in the Philippines. Each one of our democracies is different. But we all share the same universal values, and the same direction of travel. The path towards better democracies is one that we can and should walk together. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Philippines and the European Union may stand at the opposite sides of the world, but our destinies are linked more than ever before. We see it with geopolitics and climate change. We see it in the connection of our value chains. We have a similar outlook on the Indo-Pacific. And we have strong economic ties. Europe wants to be a trusted partner to the Philippines as it grows into its economic potential. We want to be partners who stand eye to eye. Partners who put people and their values first. Having met so many wonderful people here in the Philippines, who are proud of their country, hardworking, and humble, I am excited for what we can achieve together. I know you are proud of your Bayanihan spirit. And I really hope that we can build the same spirit of community between us, in Europe and the Philippines. Salamat, thank you very much and have a wonderful evening.

Defense & Security
French President Emmanuel Macron giving speech at Global Fund to Fight HIV conference

French President Emmanuel Macron’s Speech in Globsec Summit in Bratislava

by Emmanuel Macron

Since GLOBSEC opened its doors in 2008, many political leaders and officials have spoken at the Bratislava Forum, but unless I am mistaken, no French President. That was no doubt an anomaly. And it would be even more of an anomaly today, in the context of Russia’s war against neighbouring Ukraine when, quite simply, the future of our continent is at stake, and with much playing out in this region. This is particularly true at the cusp of a month that sums up the magnitude of our strategic challenges, with the European Political Community Summit in Chișinău tomorrow, then an important European Council meeting for the future of our Union in June, and last the NATO Summit in Vilnius. Before these milestones, I think it is worth explaining my thinking, with great freedom in the tone, when it comes to the moment which Europe is living on the geopolitical stage. Almost 20 years ago, our Union opened its gates to Slovakia and other countries freed from the Soviet grip. That was not merely an enlargement of our Union: it was the return to our family of those from whom we had been separated for too long. I do not believe there is a “Western” Europe and an “Eastern” Europe, an “old” Europe and a “new” Europe. That would mean perpetuating the artificial border imposed for decades by the Soviet Union. There is only one Europe. A single weave of intertwined histories and diversity, but with the will for geographical and geopolitical unity and to build, ultimately, a common narrative. I believe that is what unites us all behind this project, that does not erase our national identities and national projects, but rather enables us to conjugate them in an overarching narrative. Let us remember the last words of the director of the Hungarian press agency, just minutes before he was crushed by Russian artillery in November 1956: “We will die for Hungary and Europe”. The curtain was falling across our continent, and it was already our unity that was at stake. It announced decades of forced separation, decades of a “kidnapped West”, to borrow the excellent words of Milan Kundera that we can make our own today. And I would like to add, as I speak to those who are here today, that even after Slovakia and many other countries joined the Union, we did not always hear the voices you brought, calling for recognition of your painful memories and history. Some told you then that you were missing opportunities to keep quiet – but I believe we sometimes missed opportunities to listen. That time is over, and today, these voices must be all our voices. So my message is simple. In the times we are living in, we must not let the West be kidnapped a second time. We will not let Europe be kidnapped a second time. The challenges we face are considerable, with war at our borders. The war of aggression against Ukraine isultimately an extreme manifestation of a challenge to our European unity that has played out in the last fifteen years, and a show of fragility. Fifteen years of Russian attempts to overturn the whole European security architecture, to reshape it in its own terms. We all know the milestones: Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, the aggression against Georgia in 2008, that against Ukraine in 2014, and again against Ukraine in 2022, and the rampant transformation of Belarus into a vassal state. Ultimately, what Russia demands, and what it sought to codify in the draft treaties it brandished on the eve of its invasion just over a year ago, is the weakening and neutralization of Ukraine and, ultimately, for a whole part of Europe to be made vulnerable in return for minor and largely unverifiable commitments. In this context, it is true, we failed to provide a European response, or to organize an architecture to protect ourselves, via the OSCE or the other projects envisaged at the time, against these attacks. As for NATO’s response, it was too much or too little: perspectives offered to Ukraine and Georgia, exposing the two countries to Russia’s wrath, but which did not protect them, and which came with guarantees that were far too feeble. And we lacked coherence as Europeans. So we provided insufficient guarantees to certain countries at our borders. We did not engage with Russia in a security dialogue for ourselves. Ultimately, we delegated this dialogue to NATO, which was probably not the best means to succeed. And at the same time, we did not break free of dependencies on Russia, particularly for energy, and indeed we even continued to increase them. So we must be clear-sighted about ourselves. We were not coherent in our approach. In coming here, I am aware of the experience many of you had during the Soviet period, and I know why everyone is determined, for good reasons, to ensure that does not happen again. That is my commitment too. Every country has the right to choose its alliances, and opting for freedom, democracy and transparency is never a threat to one’s neighbours. And as I saw powerfully, with the major G7 partners in Japan a few days ago, the foundation of the Charter of the United Nations remains sovereign equality: it has never been limited sovereignty. And it is in this respect too that what is happening in Ukraine today is not merely a European issue, but an issue for the international order and global peace. What the war in Ukraine shows is not merely that these attempts to subjugate part of Europe are illegal and unacceptable, but also that, in the harsh light of power balances, they are now unrealistic. In Kyiv, in Kharkiv and in Kherson, whole Russian armies have retreated, before being squandered in Bakhmut and elsewhere for the slightest of gains. The war is far from over, but I believe I can say today that one thing is clear: Ukraine will not be conquered. And now what was, a little over a years ago, a “special operation”, has led to date to a geopolitical failure and to the accession of Finland and soon, I hope, Sweden, to NATO. And so a closure of Russia’s access to the Baltic, and also heightened distrust among all neighbours, as well as a loss of standing for Russia in the concert of nations due to failure to respect the Charter. The situation on the ground gives Russia no credibility to seek by threat what already no right could justify. There is no place in Europe for imperial fantasies. It is very important to recognize that, and that is a precondition, in my eyes, for any future organization of peace. How we got here says several things about us. We must remember them as we seek to build the future. The first is the strength of our alliance: from the very first days of the fighting, NATO ensured the security of its borders most effectively. Article V played its full role, and I am convinced it holds Russia at bay, and in this respect we owe gratitude to our American allies who have provided a major share of material and intelligence support to Ukraine. In December 2019, I made a severe comment about NATO, highlighting the divisions that, at the time, as you will recall, were present within it between Turkey and several other powers, describing it as “brain dead”. I dare say today that Vladimir Putin has jolted it back with the worst of electroshock. The second thing that strikes me is the exemplary role of the European Union, too. We have been united, swift and clear and I believe that very few, starting with Russia, expected the European Union to respond in such a way: €67 billion in total, including €14 billion in military aid, sanctions and emergency assistance, as well as taking in millions of refugees. We completely and profoundly reorganized our energy system, which was highly dependent on Russia, in just a few months. And that was a demonstration of unity and strategic clarification. It happened under constraint, and should have been done sooner, but we must be satisfied. I also welcome the adoption of a clear doctrine. Europe has chosen strategic autonomy and European sovereignty. And the Versailles Agenda that we defined in March 2022 is ultimately a long way from what people described five years ago as a French whim when I talked of European sovereignty at the Sorbonne. So I believe the second thing that we should take away from recent months, in addition to the strength of the alliance, is the unity and the ideological clarification of our European Union, and its clarity in terms of military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine. France has played its full role in this respect, and I can discuss this further during question time. I will also come back to the subject in the coming weeks and months. However, this collective effort will be for nothing if it is not sustained. Looking forward now, in light of what I just said, and of analysis of the past and the situation in recent months, I would like to imagine our future. Moscow must certainly be very tempted to hope that, where its armies have failed, time will come to the rescue, perhaps when elections are held or as public opinion fatigues. I think we need to be very clear about what we have to do in the short and medium terms. Today, we need to help Ukraine, by every means, to conduct an effective counteroffensive. That is essential. That is what we are doing, and we need to step up our efforts, as what is at stake in the coming months is the very possibility of chosen and therefore lasting peace. The second thing is that we need to be very clear about what we call peace. Peace in Ukraine and on our continent cannot mean a ceasefire that enshrines the current situation, re-creating a frozen conflict and, if you will, accepting the seizure of territory in violation of all the principles of international law. Because ultimately, such a frozen conflict would definitely be the war of tomorrow or the day after, and would weaken us all. Only one peace is possible: a peace that respects international law and is chosen by the victims of the aggression: the Ukrainian people. That is a peace that can last and that therefore respects these balances, bolstered by, and I will come back to this, credible guarantees. And so we need to prepare very clear-sightedly for this conflict and I will come back to this, credible guarantees. And so we need to prepare very clear-sightedly for this conflict to last, and for the consequences of the conflict to last. I hope the coming months will enable us, following a victorious counteroffensive, to bring everybody back to the negotiating table and build lasting peace, under the conditions I just set out, chosen by Ukraine and in accordance with international law. But we will have years and years of reconstruction and a humanitarian situation to manage, as we know already. We must also, to be credible in Russia’s eyes, put ourselves in a position, ourselves and our public opinions, to support Ukraine longer-term in a high- and medium-intensity conflict. That means working with all our partners to review and re-analyse this summer the very nature of our support and what is needed to achieve the result I have described. At the same time, we need to convince the global South, because there is, in the context I have discussed, a fragility that we must be clear about. It is that today, while thanks to the engagement of Japan and a few others, this is not simply a Western war, many emerging powers consider that it is not their war. Even if they recognize that it is an aggression and contrary to the Charter of the United Nations, they barely murmur it, because they consider that their main problems are fighting poverty within their borders, that they are subject to enough constraints already, that there are double standards, that their own security is not addressed, that they are facing the consequences of this war head-on, and that when their own security was threatened, we did not respond with the same vigour. We must heed that message. Otherwise, the risk is that all these countries will be seized upon by others to build an alternative international order and become, by choice, clear-sightedly or in fact, by composition, objective allies of a sort of Russian way. And so we must absolutely, as we make efforts to support the preparation of lasting peace, do this work to convince the countries of the South and several emerging countries, and thus re-engage in the assistance that we have a duty to provide them in the clarification of our agenda. Now that I have said all that, let us look at our future. The question we face is ultimately what future is possible for our Europe, in the long term, and how our Europe can rebuild lasting stability, peace and security for itself. We have responded very well in the short term, thanks to the commitment of States. NATO has shown its credibility on its Eastern Flank, and the European Union through its efforts. But is that enough in the long term? Today, we should be pleased to have an American Administration that has stood with us, that has made as many efforts as the Europeans, and that very clearly increases our collective credibility. We should be grateful and thankful to the United States of America. Will that Administration always be the same? Nobody can tell, and we cannot delegate our collective security and our stability to the choices of American voters in the coming years. At the same time, the Americans have been asking us for years, each successive Administration, to better share the burden and to make greater efforts for our security and our neighbourhood. And so yes, a Europe of Defence, a European pillar within NATO, is essential. That is the only way to be credible for ourselves, to be credible in the long term, to reduce our dependency and to shoulder our legitimate share of the burden. Because, whether we like it or not, our geography will not change. We will live in the same place, and Russia will remain Russia, with the same borders and the same geography. We need to build a space that, tomorrow, must be this space of lasting peace, because the rights of the Ukrainian people will have been respected and international law will have been restored. That space must allow us to cohabit as peacefully as possible with Russia – but with no naivety. I repeat, this project is not one of naivety with regard to Russia – I have never had such naivety – but it is aboutbnot denying geography and not considering that we should make our choices as if there was an ocean between Russia and us. And my goal is in no case to try to replace NATO with something else. I want to debunk all these ideas here because I know how they can be repeated and distorted. I do not want to replace NATO with a sort of Franco-German condominium. No. I believe that it is a broad, powerful Europe, with countries like yours, like Poland and many others, that need to play their role in this Europe of Defence, a Europe that increasingly ensures its own security and addresses its own neighbourhood issues. To do so, we now, urgently, need to speed up our strategic choices and the implementation of what we have started to decide. And that agenda is part of what we must build for this common destiny. Firstly, we need to forge a more sovereign European capacity when it comes to energy, technology and military capabilities. That is part of the Versailles Agenda we launched in March 2022. We now need to swiftly, and very tangibly, implement that agenda: meaning we should increasingly build European, buy European and innovate European. When it comes to military capabilities, that also requires a national effort that we have to make. France did not wait for this war. We stepped up our efforts with the military programming law in my first term and we are currently increasing it by €100 billion compared to the previous period, to reach a total of €413 billion under the current draft law. Alongside the prospect of reaching 2% of GDP, we also need to achieve tangible goals, with deployments and real capabilities to ensure the credibility of this collective effort, as France did a few days after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by deploying forces to Romania. Less than eight days later, we had hundreds of soldiers in Romania. This is about the credibility of a European Defence within NATO. later, we had hundreds of soldiers in Romania. This is about the credibility of a European Defence within NATO. But a sovereign choice is needed, with capabilities, expenditure and deployment mechanisms. This strategic autonomy and military sovereignty also requires an industrial effort. We have clearly understood, in recent months, while emptying our arsenals, that we own with certainty only what we produce. We must learn lessons from this and act accordingly. And when I see certain countries increase their defence spending to massively buy non-European, I simply say: “you are creating yourselves your own problems for the future”. We need to use this opportunity to produce more in Europe. We have been inventive together, creating something new concerning ammunition, a great progress in support of Ukraine. We need to go much further. We need to harmonize our European standards, because there is too much competition between us. There are far more different standards between Europeans than there are within the United States of America. But in doing so, we must develop a genuinely European defence technological and industrial base in all interested countries, and deploy fully sovereign equipment at European level. We need to reduce our dependence and we need to continue building strategic proximity in this collective effort. I have in mind, of course, the European Intervention Initiative we launched five years ago, and that is still every bit as relevant today. Several of you accompanied us in fighting terrorism in Africa, showing that solidarity is two-way, and for that we are grateful. Even if the French presence in Africa is changing, the need to continue to be engaged together remains. And therefore we need to explore possibilities for cooperation in all these spaces and build capacity among Europeans by building on NATO’s interoperability, yet going beyond that, knowing how to engage together common action forces in new theatres of operation in our neighbourhoods, but also in cyber space, in space, in maritime areas, etc. More broadly, as you can see, this first pillar is, ultimately, to strengthen our military sovereignty. This means that we must take a look at the situation in which we live. It is up to us, as Europeans, in the future, to have our own capacity to defend ourselves and to deal with our neighbourhood. And in this regard, let’s not only focus on capabilities to manage past or current wars or to manage conflicts that are simply those that are emerging today. Dealing with our neighbourhood does not concern our Eastern Flank alone. It also concerns the Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Mediterranean regions, and new spaces of conflict including cyber space, space and maritime areas. They are at least as important as land wars on our continent that we have seen re-emerge because of Russian aggression and that we thought were disappearing, but that do not dispel the new forms of conflict that will grow in number. Therefore, let us have this strategic lucidity to prepare future conflicts that are bound to happen. In addition to this focus on sovereignty that is therefore European, technological and military, our second challenge is to see to it that Europe becomes a fully-fledged player, instead of being on the receiving end of strategic evolutions in its environment. In these last few years, I have been struck by the fact that we Europeans have not changed our status of geopolitical minority. It’s very hard for a French President to say this so bluntly. This generates irritation and annoyance. But I had the experience of going to a NATO Summit with another US Administration that liked us less, and which, with hardly any notice and in coordinating things with Europeans in a very bureaucratic way, informed us that it was withdrawing from the INF Treaty saying that “the Russians are no longer complying with it”. In 2019, we Europeans discovered a treaty that covered us against missiles that landed on our soil, and that Russian non-compliance and the US decision could leave us exposed and somehow naked, because we were not a party to it. The same thing happened when Russia methodically suspended implementation of the New Start Treaty last February, then clearly violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act in March, etc. I say this very clearly, we Europeans must be active players of these treaties that cover our security and build the future framework. If we delegate our role to others, Russia, the United States or I don’t know who, we will never be credible players. And therefore, yes, we must build these diplomatic solutions for the future.  To do so, we must first fully control arms, which refers back to what I was saying about our industrial lucidity. Europe was absent from treaties such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the New Start Treaty, despite the fact that its security was at stake. Therefore, it must now weigh in. And it will have much more credibility if it is a player, and not a spectator, in these balances. That is why I called on Europeans to acquire a deep-strike capability, which will bolster our security, and also give us a card to play in all future negotiations. I wish to launch discussions with the European partners that are interested in exploring cooperation in this area. The second, which is related, is air-defence. The war in Ukraine has shown its vital importance. It’s a strategic issue before being an industrial issue , but very clearly, it must build on a balance of offense and defense. It should clearly take nuclear deterrence into account. That is why, as I have pledged in Munich,  a conference will be held on this issue on 19 June in Paris. I invite all defence ministers of the European countries represented here today to attend. It will give us an opportunity to pursue our work. The third, more broadly, is the way in which Europe can secure its environment. We must build these new treaties as fully-fledged players around the table. And in doing so, let us be very clear, the issue of security with our neighbours will be raised. We will undoubtedly discuss this again during question time. But securing our environment is a key component of this credibility and of a Europe with a full role. We should provide Ukraine with solid security guarantees to put an end to repeated destabilizing actions. If Russia wants to continue destabilizing Europe, it must be ready to pay the geopolitical price. I have listened to all of our debates, but we would be strange geopolitical players if we were to say “we are massively arming Ukraine, but we do not want to include it in any strategic security debates.” I was reading something Henry Kissinger said recently, who we all know is not the least experienced diplomat. He was right when he said: In a year, all those who, with good reason, have helped Ukraine, have made it such a powerful player that it would be best to bring it back into these existing security architectures. I tend to share this vision. Therefore, if we want credible lasting peace, if we want to have influence with respect to Russia, and if we want to be credible vis-à-vis Ukrainians, we must give Ukraine the means to prevent any additional aggression and we must include Ukraine, in a structure, in a credible security architecture, including for ourselves. That is why I am in favour – and this will be the subject of collective discussions in the coming weeks ahead of the Vilnius Summit – of providing tangible security guarantees to Ukraine, for two reasons: Ukraine today is protecting Europe and provides security guarantees to Europe. The second reason is that Ukraine is now armed to such a point that it is in our interest for it to have credible security guarantees with us in a multilateral framework, with multilateral support or bilateral support. This is what we will discuss. We must today be much more ambitious than we sometimes are in discussions on this topic. Over the medium term, it is clearly our Europe’s stability and security that we will need to build on the basis of this solid peace in Ukraine, of these security guarantees in our neighbourhood – and tomorrow the question of Belarus and others will be raised – and of a transparent framework of trust making it possible to avoid the escalation of capabilities in the future to exit, at some point, this state of war when peace will be negotiated and stable. Yet we have armed our Eastern Flank so much and Russia has deployed so many arms that we will have to rebuild - I am talking here about the medium term - a framework for de-escalation. But it will be up to Europeans at that time to really build it in a transparent framework in which we must be players of these treaties, we must be around the table in order to negotiate, and around the table in order to determine their effective compliance and their evolution, as opposed to what has been done in the past. That is why, within this framework, we must also think of a wider Europe and I will end my remarks with these points. This Europe is one that I wanted to propose just over a year ago in Strasbourg, that of a European Political Community. Why? Because we need to consider our Europe, not only from a security standpoint, within the framework of NATO, and not simply within the framework of the European Union. That is why the European Political Community does not compete with NATO, nor does it replace enlargement. It is a framework for strategic discussion needed by all countries to build, I hope, an innovative and new institutional architecture, regarding energy and interconnection, mobility, security, strategy, and coming up with common solutions without waiting for enlargement to be completed and without merely taking a NATO-based approach. We will pursue this at Chișinău and we will express our willingness to go as far as possible in this format where cool-headed discussions can be held and topics of common interest can emerge. Among other topics, I will have an opportunity to propose the extension of the European Cyber Reserve to include all EPC countries because it is in our interest to be inclusive in order to safeguard our security. In this regard, the European Political Community is a geopolitical lab, if you will, and we need to continue down this path. But as I have said, it does not replace enlargement. For us, the question is not whether we should enlarge – we answered that question a year ago – nor when we should enlarge – for me, as swiftly as possible – but rather how we should do it. Several of you may remember that France advocated a change in the enlargement method in 2018. However, ultimately the war in Ukraine and today’s worsening situation in several areas of the Western Balkans have shown us one thing, which is that our current method is not working. Yet I believe there are two mistakes we should avoid making. The first is to tell ourselves that the situation is worsening, stay as we are, and give hope to Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova, and then procrastinate. We are very familiar with this tactic, we’ve been using it for a long time. If we do this, I think that we would actually give more space to those who want to destabilize Europe and I think that we would wake up in a few years to a situation that is considerably worse. A second mistake would be to say “let’s enlarge, it’s our duty and in our geopolitical interest, I think we need to anchor Moldova, Ukraine and the Western Balkans to our Europe. Let’s do it. We’ll reform later”. This would also be disastrous because it would create a powerless Europe, burdened at times by heavy bureaucratic procedures, slow, and with divergent trajectories. You can clearly see that in Europe there are ultimately two deep forces. They are both respectable. One that says: we need more geopolitical unity, to anchor the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine to this Europe. It needs to be united. It needs to think of itself in this space in terms of security, geopolitics, energy and migration. On the other side, we have had a preview, but we need to coordinate economic policies to a greater extent, have more requirements regarding the rule of law and it creates a somewhat centrality that some States do not always accept. We need to think about this paradox, which is that our European Union was not designed to be enlarged at will. It was designed to always be deepened and to move towards a more integrated project. We need – due to the times in which we are living and the fact that everything is happening at the same time to a certain extent – but that’s how it goes – a very great moment of theoretical and geopolitical clarification of our European Union. Yes, it should be enlarged. Yes, it should be rethought very extensively with regard to its governance and its aims. Yes, it should innovate, undoubtedly to invent several formats and clarify each of their aims. It is the only way to meet the legitimate expectation of the Western Balkans, Moldova and Ukraine, which should become part of the European Union, and to maintain effectiveness in the geopolitical field, but also with regard to the climate, rule of law, and the economic integration the EU is now experiencing. And therefore, we need to re-articulate and rethink the balance of intergovernmental versus communitarian, and also understand what happens in Member States when they no longer understand Europe and the path that it is taking now and for the time being. And we will be working on this with several of our partners in thecoming weeks. I have already spoken too long. Please accept my apologies. These were the points I wanted to discuss. And therefore, as you have understood, our ability to build a just and lasting peace in Ukraine without any weakness is at stake, along with the future of our continent. I truly believe this will happen in the months and the two or three years ahead. Not much more. I believe Europe has experienced a conceptual and strategic awakening. But is must learn all the possible lessons from the past for itself and its neighbourhood. In this context, I think you’ve understood that is why I’m here. You can count on France. France is sometimes seen as being arrogant or faraway from or not interested in this part of Europe. As for me, I visited every EU Member State during my first term in office. Every one, because I considered that the European Union is not just Brussels, but all the capitals. It is this constantly plural dialogue and the absence of hegemony. But you can count on France over the long term. I also know that France can count on you so that we can together build a Europe that is stronger, more sovereign and more capable of ensuring its own security. And this cannot be done with just one, two or three countries. We will do it with all 27 and even more, by including in this strategic debate all those who will join us tomorrow in Chișinău, in this capacity to have frank, open, far-reaching, powerful, ambitious dialogue, by accepting our differences, respecting them and clearly setting out our aims. Ultimately, let us recognize together that our Europe must be a great democratic, diverse, but united power. Thank you very much

Defense & Security
Depicted pictures Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin with shadowed faces

How “Putin’s chef” undermined the Kremlin’s case for invading Ukraine

by Ani Mejlumyan , Nika Aleksejeva

In a June 23 video released on one of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Telegram channels the morning he launched his mutiny, the Wagner founder undermined core false narratives Russian President Vladimir Putin used to justify launching his war of aggression against Ukraine in February 2022. While the impact of Prigozhin’s remarks remains to be seen, they serve as evidence of how Putin attempted to deceive domestic audiences and the international community, both of which may come with long-term consequences for the Russian president.  The Kremlin and its proxies spent the years and months leading up to the invasion attempting to paint Ukraine as the aggressor. As the DFRLab outlined in Narrative Warfare: How the Kremlin and Russian news outlets justified a war of aggression against Ukraine, Putin and his pro-Kremlin media proxies employed false and misleading narratives to justify military action against Ukraine, mask the Kremlin’s operational planning, and deny any responsibility for the coming war. “Collectively, these narratives served as Vladimir Putin’s casus belli to engage in a war of aggression against Ukraine,” the report noted. Over the course of the thirty-minute video, Prigozhin criticized Russian military leadership under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gennady Gerasimov, castigating the reasons given to justify the war and dismissing them as false. In challenging core pre-war Kremlin narratives, Prigozhin simultaneously undermined multiple arguments cited directly by Putin during his public address on February 24, 2022, when he announced the start of the invasion. Prigozhin’s remarks represent the most consequential debunking of the Kremlin’s case for war by a high-profile Russian power player and Putin confidant. Since the start of the war, the Kremlin has cracked down on dissent by criminalizing criticism of the military, restricting access to social media platforms, and forcing independent media to either cease operations or flee the country. In doing so, Kremlin pro-war narratives dominate Russia’s entire domestic information ecosystem. And just as Prigozhin’s mutiny exposed the regime’s weaknesses for the entire Russian public to see, his pre-mutiny takedown of the Kremlin’s justifications for war exposed how Putin and his proxies wove together a web of falsehoods to initiate the invasion. Background As part of our previous research for the Narrative Warfare report, the DFRLab analyzed hundreds of debunked claims made during the 2014-2021 interwar period, as well as more than 10,000 instances of pro-Kremlin and anti-Ukrainian narratives appearing in Russian media during the ten weeks preceding the invasion. We then documented how these narratives formed the backbone of Putin’s false justifications for war during his public remarks on February 24, 2022, when he announced the launch of Russia’s so-called “special military operation” against Ukraine. At the heart of the speech, Putin relied on false and misleading narrative tropes prominently featured in the weeks and months prior to the invasion, some of them dating to his 2014 of Ukraine. While maintaining the position that Russia seeks peace, for example, Putin also emphasized that Russia had a moral obligation to do something about security in the region. Putin also embraced multiple false narratives and tropes about Ukraine being the aggressor, including accusations that the country is run by Nazis, that Ukraine intends to commit genocide against Russian speakers, and that it plans to use weapons of mass destruction against Russia and the breakaway regions. Lastly, he used these opportunities to blame the West for whatever would happen next, arguing that Ukraine is a puppet of the West, which wants to create tensions in the region. Putin’s February 2022 speech was specifically crafted to make his false case for war. In just over thirty minutes on June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin – one of Putin’s closest, longtime confidants in security and propaganda efforts – successfully undermined Putin’s core arguments for his war against Ukraine. Questioning Ukraine’s “aggression” In his February 2022 speech, Putin highlighted the need to save Russians in Ukraine before Ukraine could commit “genocide” against them. “It became impossible to tolerate it,” Putin stated at the time. “We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.” He then added, “If we look at the sequence of events and the incoming reports, the showdown between Russia and these forces cannot be avoided. It is only a matter of time. They [NATO] are getting ready and waiting for the right moment. Moreover, they went as far as aspire to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not let this happen.” Prigozhin’s June 23 remarks undercut Putin’s claims that there had been any imminent threat to Russians, let alone genocide. “All these long eight years, from 2014 to 2022, sometimes the number of various skirmishes increased,” Prigozhin said. “Roughly speaking, the exchange of ammunition, the exchange of shots, sometimes decreased. On February 24, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Now the Ministry of Defense is trying to deceive the public, is trying to deceive the president, and tell the story that there was insane aggression on the part of Ukraine, and they were going to attack us together with the entire NATO bloc. Therefore, the so-called special operation, on February 24, was launched for completely different reasons.” [emphasis added by the DFRLab] Notably, Prigozhin described the war as a profit-making enterprise that would enrich Kremlin elites rather than residents of the Donbas, the region of eastern Ukraine comprising Donetsk and Luhansk. “Today, a decision is already being made when it will be launched,” he said, describing the events of February 2022. “And how the hell will it be launched? Who will it get to own it, who will profit on it? It’s a 100% chance that it won’t be the people of Donbas – 100%. There will be new owners immediately who will then cut these grandmothers.” Prigozhin alleges Kremlin regime change plan As part of Putin’s February 2022 explanation for conducting a “special military operation,” he insisted that its goals were limited in scope. “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory,” he insisted. “We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.” Prigozhin contradicted this as well, insisting the Kremlin planned to decapitate Ukraine’s democratically-elected leadership and replace it with a Russian figurehead – specifically, former Ukrainian MP Viktor Medvedchuk, a well-known Kremlin supporter who would later be arrested by Ukraine and exchanged for prisoners-of-war held by Russia. “So the second most important task of the operation was the appointment of Medvedchuk,” Prigozhin argued. “The same Medvedchuk who had already made his way to Kyiv in advance, sat and waited for the troops to arrive. Zelenskyy would run away, everyone would lay down their arms, and he would become the president of this Ukraine.” Denazification as a red herring Throughout Putin’s February 24 address, he referred to Ukrainians as “Nazis,” and invoked Russian patriotism by discussing the former Soviet Union’s role in defeating Nazi Germany. “The country stopped the enemy and went on to defeat it, but this came at a tremendous cost,” Putin recounted. “The attempt to appease the aggressor ahead of the Great Patriotic War proved to be a mistake which came at a high cost for our people.” He added, “The outcomes of World War II and the sacrifices our people had to make to defeat Nazism are sacred.” Soviet forces successfully captured Berlin in the spring of 1945 as its US and British allies closed in from the west. Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, was among the first Soviet states invaded by Nazi Germany, and Ukrainians played a key role in the Soviet counteroffensive to defeat Germany. Millions of Ukrainians died in the war, including nearly one million Ukrainian Jews; President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, was among those who lost family during the Holocaust. When discussing the present situation in Ukraine, though, Putin insisted that “leading NATO countries are supporting far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine.” “They will undoubtedly try to bring war to Crimea just as they have done in the Donbas, to kill innocent people just as members of the punitive units of Ukrainian nationalists and Hitler’s accomplices did during the Great Patriotic War,” he continued. “They have also openly laid claim to several other Russian regions. “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” Again invoking Russian patriotism, Putin added, “Comrade officers: Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Prigozhin, in contrast, insisted that the purpose of the invasion was to assimilate Russian-speaking Ukrainians into the Russian Federation rather than to defeat Nazis. “The war was not needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, and not in order to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.” Denying the existence of Ukrainians Not all of Prigozhin’s remarks ran counter to Putin. While attempting to make the point that a negotiated settlement with Ukraine remained a possibility prior to the invasion, Prigozhin reinforced Putin’s long-standing position that Ukrainians do not exist as their own ethnic entity and are actually Russians, both culturally and genetically. “All [the Kremlin] had to do was get down from Olympus: go and negotiate, because the whole of Eastern Ukraine is inhabited by people who are genetically Russian,” he said. “And what is happening today, we’re seeing these genetic Russians being killed.” Putin reinforced this idea in his February 2022 speech when he argued that Ukrainian aggression was tantamount to genocide against Russians living in the Donbas. As previously noted, Putin said, “It became impossible to tolerate it,” he said. We had to stop that atrocity, that genocide of the millions of people who live there and who pinned their hopes on Russia, on all of us.” Later in the speech when he declared the launch of his “special military operation,” he added, “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime.” In this sense, Putin and Prighozin share the false assertion that Ukraine was perpetrating genocide against Russians, while simultaneously denying Ukrainian identity. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide describes genocide as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part,” which is very much reflected in Putin and Prigozhin’s beliefs that Ukrainians are genetically Russian and should be assimilated by force. Criticizing Russia’s military capabilities Putin’s February 24 speech also claimed that Russia’s armed forces could defeat any aggressor. “As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states,” Putin said. “Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” Prigozhin undermined these claims when he said the Russian army wasn’t combat-ready and the soldiers weren’t given proper weapons, preventing them to fight more aggressively. “The army did nothing since 2012,” he insisted. “Each conscript was given three rounds of ammunition. Like during the best Soviet times. Although this was not the case in Soviet times either. They weren’t in combat training. They are not trained on various types of weapons, especially modern ones. And so, in Russia the army was in such a flawed state that it could not conduct any large-scale military operations.” Short-term mutiny, long-term consequences Prigozhin’s June 23 video kicked off what would prove to be a two-day mutiny against the Russian government. A deal negotiated by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka helped de-escalate the crisis, but the mutiny exposed the weaknesses in not only the organization of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine but also the Russian state itself. We expect to see increased fractionalization among Russian leaders as they position themselves with the public through propaganda and other means while buttressing themselves within the Kremlin hierarchy. When Yevgeny Prigozhin put his Wagner mutiny into motion, he repeatedly stated that the object of his revolt was to hold Russia’s military establishment accountable for its failures in Ukraine. But by blaming the Russian Ministry of Defense for everything that has gone wrong for Russia in Ukraine, including its premise for prosecuting the war, he simultaneously exposed enormous cracks in Putin’s public arguments for going to war in the first place. Given his prominence, his closeness with Putin, and his role in the military operation, Prighozin’s words debunking the Kremlin case for war will be important to long-term efforts to hold Putin and the regime accountable for its war of aggression and other crimes conducted against Ukraine. As we noted in Narrative Warfare, documenting the Kremlin’s use of false narratives prior to the war could serve as evidence for proving the crime of aggression: First, Kremlin disinformation published in the leadup to the invasion may be evidence of planning or preparing for an act of aggression. This includes many of the false and misleading narratives documented in this report: claims of Ukraine’s alleged planned chemical-weapons attacks, the shelling of the kindergarten, sabotage of chlorine tanks, development of nuclear weapons, and genocidal acts against Russians in the Donbas. These and other narratives by Kremlin and Donbas officials in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion were used to create a pretext for the invasion, thus making them part of the planning that went into the invasion. Second, disinformation narratives that started prior to the invasion and continued afterward may be evidence that Russian or Donbas officials knew the invasion was inconsistent with the UN Charter and constituted a “manifest violation” of it. For example, if officials believed the invasion was legally justified, there would be no need to create a pretext for it. The fact that they created a pretext for the invasion could help prosecutors prove that they were aware a pretext was needed. No doubt, Russian and Donbas officials would argue that they did not create a pretext and the information they published was accurate, or that they believed it to be accurate. This argument would, therefore, require establishing that officials knew their public claims to be false but published them anyway.For weeks, months, and even years prior to the invasion, Putin, the Kremlin, and their proxies telegraphed an array of narratives to justify it, deny responsibility for it, and mask their hostile intentions. If subsequent investigations establish that these officials knew these narratives to be inaccurate, the deployment of disinformation narratives could serve as evidence of knowledge that the invasion was a manifest violation of the UN Charter. Whether intentional or not, the most lasting impact of Prigozhin’s insurrection was the admonition of the Kremlin’s false premise for war. His remarks on June 23 may very well become a piece of the puzzle for investigators that seek to hold Putin accountable.