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European Union to continue to support Ukraine over the long term

by Petteri Orpo

The European Union will continue to provide strong military, financial, economic, and diplomatic support and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The EU leaders decided on the matter on the closing day of the European Council held in Brussels on 26–27 October. Prime Minister Petteri Orpo represented Finland at the meeting. Prime Minister Orpo highlighted the importance of the EU’s pledge to provide security commitments to Ukraine in the future. “It is important that we reach an agreement quickly on the EU’s security commitments to Ukraine. We should be ready to make political decisions on the matter at the December European Council,” Orpo said. The EU leaders had already exchanged views on Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine in a video discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the first day of the Council. The EU will speed up the delivery of military support, such as missiles, ammunition, and air defence systems, to Ukraine. “We must strengthen the EU’s defence sector and reinforce the capacity of the European defence industry as quickly as possible. A strong EU also strengthens NATO and transatlantic cooperation,” said Prime Minister Orpo. Prime Minister Orpo also called for progress on the use of frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine. The Euro Summit held in connection with the European Council focused on the overall economic and financial situation and economic policy coordination. In Prime Minister Orpo’s view, the EU must be more competitive both internally and globally given the current geopolitical situation. “A well-functioning and competitive single market, for example in the service sector, plays a key role. Fair competition is an important factor in ensuring growth capacity. We must return to the normal State aid rules as soon as possible,” said Prime Minister Orpo. In its conclusions, the European Council emphasises the need to speed up work on developing digital services, clean technology, and clean energy production, transitioning towards a more circular economy and reducing the regulatory burden. “The EU must continue to be a global leader in the energy transition and clean technology solutions. I highlighted the potential of the bioeconomy and circular economy in renewing European industry. At the same time, we must reduce the regulatory burden on businesses,” Orpo emphasised. On the last day of the meeting, the EU leaders also held a strategic discussion on migration. Prime Minister Orpo stressed that migration is a common European challenge and called for long-term solutions. “We need to build well-functioning partnerships with countries of origin and transit. We must also be able to return people who do not have a legal right to reside in the European Union,” said Prime Minister Orpo. In their discussion on other items, the EU leaders condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, which killed and injured Swedish and French nationals. The discussion on external relations focused on the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and on the situation in the Sahel. The European Council also received an update on the preparations for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai.

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Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko answered media questions

by Vladimir Putin

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

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Video address on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Donbass

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin: Friends, esteemed veterans, September 8, 1943, marks a landmark date in the history of our country. Eighty years ago today, the legendary unconquered Donbass – Russia’s centuries-old stronghold, a land of hard workers and warriors, a rich and generous land – was liberated and cleansed from Nazi occupiers. Its resources held enormous value for the enemy. Seizing them was one of the goals behind Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, and the Nazis did everything to keep the Donbass steppe to themselves and to force the people to work for the war machine of the Third Reich. However, they ran into fierce resistance in the occupied territories, the intensity of which did not wane for nearly 700 days. During that time, while the cruel and cynical beast ruled over Donbass, hundreds of thousands of partisans, underground fighters, civilians, and children were subjected to torture and execution, and unassailable enemy fortifications grew on the key fronts. The banks of the Seversky Donets River were dotted with bunkers and dugouts, and many kilometres of minefields. Breaking through that defence line appeared impossible, but the Red Army soldiers accomplished this task, performed feats beyond human capabilities, and travelled a heroic and sacrificial path, thus solidifying the triumph of Soviet troops at the Kursk Bulge. The arduous and selfless assault of Saur Mogila is a special chapter. The Nazis turned this ancient burial mound into an impregnable citadel, but there was no force in the world that could stop our soldiers. This strategic height changed hands several times and surrendered to the Soviet soldier, who stood to the death for the truth, justice, freedom, and the future of our Motherland. I am confident that nine years ago, on these frontlines that are sacred for us, Donbass militia members, descendants of the Great Patriotic War soldiers followed their example. It multiplied their courage and fortitude in yet another confrontation with Nazism, gave the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victors the strength to defend their land, culture, language, and heritage. The Saur Mogila Memorial, which was destroyed during the 2014 hostilities, has now been fully restored. Alongside the images of Soviet soldiers, the feats of their valiant and glorious descendants – the new heroes of Donbass – have been rightfully immortalised. That is what Russia is: a nation united by its history, unbreakable through its spiritual traditions, and loyal to the legacy and memory of its ancestors. I warmly congratulate the people of the Donetsk People's Republic and all Russian citizens on the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Donbass from Nazi invaders.

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Interview with Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

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

Defense & Security
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Negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

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

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Session of Belarus’ Security Council

by Aleksandr Lukashenko

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

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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!]

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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!

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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.

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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.