Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Lukashenko goes on the attack

In an interview with Le Monde, the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, has sought to rebut many of the allegations made him since he was elected in 1994. He emphasised Belarus’ continuing astonishing economic growth (9 per cent in the first six months of this year) and said that his country was not diplomatically isolated. He said there was just as much political freedom in Belarus as in France and dismissed the demands made on him by the EU as “risible”. He vehemently denied being a dictator, he said that people lived without fear and that Belarus had excellent relations with its neighbours. “We are not one of those aggressive states which sends its troops abroad to kill old people and children.” He said that opposition demonstrations were not suppressed with tear gas or rubber bullets (as has happened in Europe) and that everyone can watch opposition or foreign TV stations. Anti-Presidential and anti-government newspapers were freely on sale. He said that his policy was not one of dictatorship but of national independence. “One Belarusian out of three died in the Second World War and we did a huge amount to save the world from Nazism. We deserve respect for it but the Europeans have forgotten it. Not us. We are proud, we do not like to be pushed around or told what to do. We do not live off the loans that you give to others. Our external debt is less than 2 per cent of GDP. So what is our fault? If the hawks in Europe want chaos and instability to reign here, we will not accept that.” He said that the Belarusian people would never accept a dictatorship, as history had shown. “Perhaps there are elements of rigidity or authoritarianism in Belarus, but that is all within the framework of the constitution, adopted by referendum.” He said that people had supported him because in the early 1990s the country had been plunged into chaos, as in Ukraine, and the Belarusians had wanted to get out of that situation. He rejected the need for any “dialogue” with the opposition, saying that it was interested only in taking foreign money and not in helping the population. He said that he had no intention of creating a political party because he was elected by the people and, in any case, a party should come from below. He criticised the sharp increase in gas prices from Russia, saying that one could hardly speak of market prices when Belarus depended on a single supplier, Gazprom. He said that Belarus was one of the countries which had created Gazprom within the Soviet Union and that other countries were negatively affected by its aggressive pricing. For this reason, he said, Belarus ought to have the same gas prices as Russia. He said that Russia had destroyed the agreement on creating a union state uniting Belarus and Russia, and that this meant that there was now no chance of getting internal prices for gas. “But our economy and our state are strong enough to resist this, as the situation over the last six months shows.” He said that Gazprom had taken its decision on the basis of instructions from the Russian government. He attacked the plan to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea (linking Russia directly to Germany) as “stupid”. “It is rather like choosing to walk on one’s knees in the mud rather than with shoes on a carpet. Those who invented this project have probably got money to waste.” He said that it was much cheaper for Russian gas to transit through Belarus. He said that the project of a union state remained on the agenda, although Russia had killed off the agreement, but that Belarus would never accept to become part of Russia. Instead, any union state would be a partnership of equals. Lukashenko said that President Putin well understood the need for a union with Belarus. “Vladimir Putin is a Soviet,” he said, “and he will remain one even if he had – let us say – changed his suit.” He said that Putin was his friend, that he had a direct line to Moscow, and that their relationship was based on respective national interests. He said that relations with his Western neighbours (Lithuania and Poland) were characterised by a high degree of economic exchange and that this would dictate the terms of relations in the future. He attacked, however, NATO, saying, “We consider it to be an illegal organisation.” He said that the Warsaw Pact had been dissolved on the basis of an agreement with the US but that, far from NATO being dissolved, it had been strengthened. He said that Europeans were wrong to remain silent in view of the American plan to station new missile launchers in Europe – “we learned the costs of silence in World War Two” – and that the US military expansion in Europe was a security problem for the whole continent. He said it could escalate into a global conflict. He also said that Belarus was intending to build a nuclear power station and that France would be invited to tender. “The objective is to reduce our energy dependence on Russia.” [Le Monde, 20 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

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