MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko spoke to Reuters on Tuesday in an interview in which he strongly criticised the West and said he would not extradite Kyrgyzstan’s toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Following are key excerpts from the interview, conducted at Lukashenko’s offices in the capital Minsk:
Q: Are you satisfied with the way relations with the West have developed over the past year?
A: We have done quite a lot recently to build normal relations with our Western partners. ... In terms of business we have quite good relations, and along the lines of financial and credit institutions we have very good relations.
But on the whole, I would not say that we have done everything that was expected and that the West has met us halfway. ... I understand the West perfectly well, but I don’t understand why they, democrats by nature, should lie. Everyone is waiting for next year’s presidential elections. At this stage it’s clear to me that the West has halted all movement and is waiting for the elections. This surprises me a little- - the situation in Belarus is absolutely predictable. If someone thinks that he can turn the conntry upside down and create conditions for some sort of revolution, he is just a charlatan.
There have been some good moves, but this is a process of unrealised hopes, both on the Western side and on our side. We expected more from the West. What we will not tolerate for someone to order us around — nobody can shove us from behind.
All we want is complete clarity. If this Belarus is unacceptable for you, say so. But to hang us on a hook and promise something — we cannot accept that. If Europe is ready and wants to cooperate on all fronts, you are welcome. Our country is open.
We will take exactly as many steps as the West is ready to take. I cannot even talk about all the steps that I have taken that are very sensitive for us — and the West cast me aside. ... It cost us dearly, and I have come to understand that there is a huge number of irresponsible politicians in the West; they forget what they said yesterday.
Don’t demand steps from us. We are taking very many steps, hundreds, maybe thousands a year. ... But the West wants some other steps: ‘Give away your enterprises for free, break the constitutional system of Belarus.’
I was thinking, why not create a political system like in Britain — a monarchy, with a king or a queen, just like in Britain. But would you applaud that? You would again shout: ‘Dictatorship.’
At a minimum there should be a normal dialogue on diplomatic channels. As for the economy: the generalised system of preferences — why have we been excluded from this?
The West doesn’t like our course and doesn’t like the current president — that’s all there is to it. Let’s be honest. But the president is elected by the people, not by the West. The sooner the West understands that, the faster we will build normal relations.
God forbid that we should act the way the United States does. We do not want that. We don’t want to be an empire. We don’t want to have vital interests in every corner of the planet. When you have vital interests in North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Belarus — when you stand with your legs splayed so far apart, you’re a monster. I don’t want to have that kind of state.
Q: What are your plans for cooperation with international financial institutions this year? Will Belarus seek a new IMF loan?
A: We are very grateful to the IMF and other financial institutions for their support at this difficult time for our economy. We will remember this forever. Now we are not asking the IMF for (new) loans. The IMF, the World Bank announced that Belarus has emerged from recession, and we do not have problems today with our budget. So we are not asking the IMF for additional credits.
Q: What plans do you have this year for privatisation?
A: We do not rule out that an investor could come to any enterprise, up to and including the pipeline system. Even the military-industrial complex is no exception.
Q: Could you agree to privatisation of the Belarus Potash Plant?
A: I do not rule it out. If the share price is good, we will see what kind of a stake to sell. But Belarus will retain a controlling stake for now.
Q: How would you evaluate current relations with Russia and their future prospects in light of the recent dispute over the conditions for oil supplies?
A: We have taken a giant step toward each other. But recently the Russian leadership has wanted to build absolutely pragmatic relations with Belarus. We are ready for that, but this pragmatism should not destroy everything we have achieved so far.
If Russians are determined like accountants that they are doing too much for the Belarusian people, that is slanted pragmatism. Unilateral pragmatism, introducing duties on oil and oil products for one member of the Customs Union, Belarus, and not for another, Kazakhstan, smells like corruption at a minimum.
Q: Does this jeopardise the Customs Union?
A: There are classical principles for building a union of any kind. ... Why should we, in creating the Customs Union, proceed from different principles? A classical principle is the absence of any trade barrier. Here they have decided to make an exception. That shows that we do not have equal relations. This union will hardly have prospects if we veer away from our agreements or violate fundamental principles. But I think that everything lies ahead of us. We have just started creating this union. ...To leave it without even entering it would hardly be right. Let’s see how the atmosphere develops. I am certain that if everything is fine others will join us, too.
Q: Are you continuing to seek oil supplies from Venezuela?
A: The process is underway. This year, Venezuela will supply 4-5 million tonnes. We cannot take any more; next year we plan to refine up to 10 million tonnes. ... We are starting to develop a field in Iran ... If Russia is going to apply protective duties, we will look for oil where it is comfortable for us.
Q: Kyrgyzstan’s interim government says it plans to demand ousted President Bakiyev’s extradition. Will you consider this?
A: They have 1,000 problems, do they need a 1,001st problem? If the current president of Kyrgyzstan appears there, it will be such a problem. The interim government of Kyrgyzstan should bow to the ground and thank me for removing the 1,001st problem for Kyrgyzstan. The situation there is under very little control as it is.
Nobody has officially appealed to me (with an extradition request). But I want to immediately declare officially: Such an appeal would be hopeless and humiliating for the interim government. The president of Kyrgyzstan is under the protection of the Belarusian state and its president. ...
As for Russia, I think that for the Russian Federation the fact that I have taken in Bakiyev is a joy and means one less headache.
Q: Do you believe Russia was involved in the vents in Kyrgyzstan, and is there a chance that it could seek something similar in other countries, such as Belarus?
A: Nobody could do such a thing in Belarus. Belarus is a completely different country. Here it is impossible. It would only hurt those who try. ...
I do not have evidence of whether Russia was behind the events in Kyrgyzstan, but the statements of Russian politicians cause concern. ... Russia and the West create a terrible precedent when they support an illegal government that came to power through bloodshed.
Q: Have you decided on a date for the next residential elections, and on whether you will run? What hopes do you have for this vote?
A: No date has been set, but I am inclined toward holding them near the beginning of next year. ...
I have not yet decided whether I will run, but there are no factors now that would force me to refuse to participate.
Q: Do you harbour hopes that one of your children could eventually succeed you as president?
A: My children have had their fill of my presidency, so I doubt they would want this. I have no such plans, and the presidency is not inherited in this country.
Q: Do you believe it is possible there will be interference from the West or from the East in the election in order to remove you from the presidency?
A: Maybe in Russia somebody would like to see a different president here. But for Russia Lukashenko is bad only in that he does not sit under the Kremlin’s thumb, does not bow and ask for favours. ... I am not very comfortable for them, but I don’t think they will look for anyone else here. ...
No matter how the situation develops here, nobody will be have the slightest possibility of ousting those in power here.
Q: You are said to be nostalgic for the Soviet Union.
A: Only an idiot would not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union. Well, maybe Americans would not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union, because the United States does not have a competitor, there is no force that can counter it. ... There is no restraining factor, which the Soviet Union was.