Visiting Belarus visa-free

Article by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Vladimir Makei, in the magazine Belaruskaya Dumka

“PEACEFUL MULTI-VECTOR POLICY OF BELARUS: A CONSCIOUS CHOICE, RESPONDING TO NATIONAL INTERESTS” (Belarus diplomacy in service of people and state – to the 25th anniversary of the independent Belarus’
foreign policy)

 
Introduction

A famous French writer, philosopher and moralist Jean de La Bruyère once said: “No road is too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste; and no honours are too distant for the man who prepares himself for them with patience”. These words come to my mind while thinking of the Republic of Belarus, which has celebrated its remarkable 25th anniversary of independence and state sovereignty.
 
Of course, it has been a short period of time in history. However, that quarter of a century has been saturated with important events, which can be called decisive for Belarusians with no exaggeration.
 
Belarus has gone through the most difficult tests of the post-Soviet era. It has overcome various forms of nationalism and fortunately defeated that virus. In a complex and contradictory pursuit of its identity Belarus has preserved crumbles of those valuables, accumulated in the Soviet Union for decades. It has taken into account the best of the world and European experiences. And as a result it has stood on its fees as an independent and a self-sufficient state.
 
The same Frenchman said: “to court nobody, and not to expect to be courted by any one”. It has been a natural condition of Belarusians to rely on their own capacities.
 
It’s difficult to overestimate the national diplomacy’s role in development of a young state. Both evolve and get mature together. Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been and remains at the “frontier” of the struggle for real independence, worldwide recognition of Belarus, and is determined to exert effective foreign and economic policy defined by the Head of State.
 
Not claiming for a deep historical digression we cannot however disregard that for the years of independence the Republic of Belarus has made an impressive step forward in its socio-political and socio-economic development. It has achieved remarkable success in the international arena. It has become a participant of new integration projects. It has widened the circle of its foreign partners and allies. New and promising markets have been opened, mastered and “staked out claims to”.
 
In complex geopolitical settings we averted penetration of chaos and violence into our country. We saved peace, security and stability in our society and in our state.
 
Belarus has successfully found a balance in dialogue with different poles of power. We have created mutually beneficial models of cooperation with majority of the world community members. Our voice sounds firmly and confidently at largest international platforms, and first of all in the United Nations.
 
Our successes have to admit even ill-wishers.
 
But why are many clichés and stereotypes related to our country relegate to obscurity? How did it happen that a “European Belarus” was all of a sudden spotted in the “last dictatorship of Europe”?
 
Of course a combination of internal and external factors played their role in it. They deserve talking about later on. But, in order to respond to the questions raised correctly, let’s digress first from prosaic things and recollect such an integral characteristic of Belarusian nation’s mentality as tolerance. It has long-standing, deep-rooted traditions in all spheres of life – from confessional to political. In our country’s history there are rare examples either of religious or ethnic conflicts, manifestations of force against neighbouring states. Tolerance, which implies respect for all peoples with no exception, acceptance of other cultures and ways of development, as well as a focus on dialogue are characteristic of Belarusians as individuals and as a nation.
 
One can give examples of a pleiad of famous expatriate Belarusians – scientists and social anthropologists (Ignacy Domeyko, Nikolai Sudzilovsky, Józef Julian Sękowski, Jan Cherski), diplomats and politicians (Michał Kleofas Ogiński – a participant in the Tadeusz Kościuszko’s uprising and the author of the well-known polonaise “Farewell to the Homeland”, Iosif Goshkevich – the first consul of the Russian Empire in Japan, Chaim Weizmann  – the first President of Israel, Andrei Gromyko – the USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1957-1985). Researchers, diplomats – expatriate Belarusians – are united by their respectful attitude to their Homeland and to other peoples, without any diminution of their civilizational significance, as an equal, unique cultural phenomenon, not as an object of scientific research.
 
Tolerance naturally continues in peacefulness that equally distinguishes both our ancestors and our contemporaries. Long before gaining independence in 1991, Belarus carried out an active peacekeeping policy aimed at establishing a just world order.
 
It is worth reminding that the first significant Belarusian initiative was proposed already at the first session of the UN General Assembly in 1946. As recommended by the BSSR delegation, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the extradition and punishment of war criminals.
 
BSSR also initiated a resolution on the non-applicability of statutory limitations to war crimes and crimes against humanity (1968), on use of scientific and technological developments in the interests of peace and social development (1973), and also actively participated in nuclear disarmament and decolonization processes.
 
In 1974-1975 BSSR was responsibly performing the function of a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, which is the main body of the Organization. Successfully and with dignity.
 
Roots of the Belarusian nation’s glorious achievements lie in our history, and this in its turn reflects to a great extent our people’s mentality. This must be kept in mind. And this has to be taken into account while assessing our current steps.

Chapter I

We have never in foreign policy turned to provincialism or a small country mentality. Though small by its size the country has invariably delivered a multi-dimensional, “panoramic” view of the world problems at the UN and other important platforms, advocated major foreign policy initiatives, actual for many countries and peoples.
 
Think about this phenomenon. Belarus is not a country like Russia, the US, Germany, France or China. It is not a superpower. It does not have vast territories. It is scarce of natural resources. It does not pretend to define global politics or to have areas of influence. But nevertheless our country enjoys respect.
 
The reason for that is largely hidden in balanced approaches of Belarus to the most complicated issues of the regional and global agenda that correspond with those of many other states. That is why the latter often become like-minded countries that share our views. An important factor here is versatility or “universality” if you want. And this is first.
 
Second – consistent protection of our principles, when the Head of State neither behaves opportunistically nor dashes aside driven by emerging external and internal state of affairs.
 
To avoid being called proofless, let us look at some examples.
 
Out of many contemporary proposals it is worth mentioning the Belarus President’s initiative on acknowledging the diversity of ways of progressive development as a universal value of human civilization that was put forward at the UN summit in 2005.
 
Another well-known initiative is that of combating trafficking in persons. A lot has been done since 2005 when the President of Belarus addressed the UN and urged to reinforce efforts in this area.
 
17 UN agencies joined in the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against trafficking in persons. A UN global plan of actions to combat trafficking in persons was put into operation. Belarus initiated a special high level meeting to be convened by the UN General Assembly in 2017 to discuss between heads of states and international organisations implementation of the UN global plan and define steps ahead. Belarus is a permanent coordinator of a Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking which is composed of 24 countries. Combating trade in persons one can call our “niche brand” at the UN.
 
Let’s move on. In recent years Belarus has been playing one of the leading roles in preventing of illegal trafficking in human organs. In 2014 and 2016 the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted our resolutions on this topic. The final goal is to adopt a relevant legally binding document at the global level.
 
At the United Nations and other organisations we are working on implementation of an idea of states, organisations and civil society partnerships in global development and energy areas with a special focus on the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
 
In 2013 our country was actively engaged into a discussion about the institute of family, consecutively promoted traditional values, which are organic for the Belarusian society. In February, 2015 Belarus, Qatar and Egypt created the Group of Friends of the Family in New York, By now it comprises 25 UN member-states.
 
In 2016 Belarus initiated creation of a UN group of Like-Minded Countries Supporters of Middle Income Countries. Its first ministerial meeting in New York in September, 2016 adopted a declaration calling to strengthening the UN role in supporting these countries while implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with due account of their interests in programmes and strategies of the UN agencies, and facilitation of their access to respective international resources.
 
For about three decades Belarus is paying a very close attention to the international Chernobyl cooperation issues. On April 25, 2016 at the international conference in Minsk there was a declaration adopted “Thirty Years after Chernobyl: From an Emergency to the Revival and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development of Affected Territories”. It was suggested to create new perspectives of partnerships on rehabilitation of the contaminated territories and improve the life quality in the affected areas. Approaches, advocated by Belarus, were incorporated into a UN Chernobyl resolution adopted later in December 2016.
 
One can find a positive example in productive and future oriented relations of Belarus with the United Nations Development Programme. New agreements on cooperation development based on principles of pragmatism and consecutive advancement of national interests were reached at the meetings of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko with the UN Under-Secretary-General, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in May 2014 and April 2016. This was the very case when a direct contact with the Head of State made it possible for an esteemed and authoritative UN official to get the first-hand and objective picture of our views on extra opportunities for partnership.
 
At the UN summit in 2005 the Belarus leader put forward an idea of an “integration of integrations” as a key principle of cooperation aimed at joining efforts in finding optimal directions for common growth and sustainable development and coordinating response to global threats and challenges. That initiative received positive feedback in many countries and international organisations and became a background topic of the Belarus conference on economic integration and sustainable development by the year 2030 jointly organised with the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). During the meeting of the Belarus Head of State Alexander Lukashenko and the UN Under-Secretary-General, UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach, who also participated in the conference, was very right in calling Minsk a “symbol of dialogue”. He highly evaluated the role Belarus plays in strengthening peace, accord and cooperation in a wide Europe.
 
As a responsible member of the international community, the Republic of Belarus acceded to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Thus, our country joined a promising global transition process to a low carbon economy.
 
Openness of Belarus towards cooperation on any issue including human rights was proved by adopting the first National Human Rights Plan for the years 2016-2019 to be implemented by the Government in cooperation with state and non-state actors. Belarus is among 40 countries in the world that already have such programmes.
 
But let us also look at some other directions.
 
Belarus is a donor of regional security and stability. This wording has already developed into a stable expression. This is absolutely fair. But what exactly do these words hide?
 
Since the times when our country gained its independence and state sovereignty the official Minsk pursued a consistent policy in the field of international security, disarmament, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms control. The country responsively approached to its commitments and was rewarded with a reputation of a reliable partner in the field of international and regional security. That noticeably improved the country’s image in the international arena.
 
In the meantime Belarus has joined practically all international security agreements: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the Treaty on Open Skies, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, a number of OSCE military-political commitments, several others.
 
Many have already forgotten an important fact: Belarus is the first former Soviet republic that voluntarily and unconditionally renounced possession of nuclear weapons, left at its territory after the Soviet Union and withdrawn in November 1996. The 20th anniversary of that event we commemorated in 2016.
 
We participate in all of disarmament control initiatives. For decades our country has been advocating in the United Nations an idea of prohibition of the development and production of new weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It was Belarus that suggested adopting a UN General Assembly resolution “Prohibition of the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons: report of the Conference on Disarmament” on a triannual basis.
 
Again, in line with the Belarus’ initiative the Conference of States Parties of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) decided to announce the International OPCW Day (April 29) which contributes to liberation of our planet from chemical weapons.
 
We exercise the most responsible approach to our commitments in the field of conventional arms control, confidence and security building measures in Europe. By the end of 1995 Belarus was the first to fulfil its part of obligations to bring armed forces in line with provisions of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty, signed in 1992) thus facilitating reduction of conventional armaments and equipment in all 30 CFE Treaty member-states by more than 10 percent.
 
In 2001-2004 Belarus signed bilateral agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine on additional confidence and security building measures in the military-political field. They became important tools for implementing a “good neighbourhood belt” concept along the borders of our state. And this was also a Belarusian initiative.
 
We joined all the international documents on counteracting terrorism and extremism.
 
Talking about security issue one cannot avoid mentioning that since signing the Collective Security Treaty (1992) and further transformation of this instrument into a full-format international organisation (2002), official Minsk has been actively and responsibly developing the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), considering this institution as an important element of the country’s national security. During its presidency in the organisation (2006-2007) Belarus suggested a number of initiatives with additional impetus to countering new challenges and threats, strengthening cooperation between the CSTO and the UN. It was by Minsk initiative that a crisis response mechanism was established. Belarus is chairing this organisation again (since October 14, 2016) and intends to work hard in development and strengthening of the organisation.
 
The Republic of Belarus has been being a full-fledged member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe since 1992. By actively participating in the process of elaborating and adopting OSCE decisions and documents our country contributes to the development of a pan-European dialogue on the whole range of issues of regional cooperation and security.
 
Minsk is one of consecutive supporters of the OSCE reform, addressing existing imbalances in its work, transformation of this institute into a full-fledged effective international organization acting in the interests of all its member-states.
 
Within the politico-military dimension of the OSCE activities Belarus successfully chaired in several of its key bodies: the Forum for Security Co-operation (April-August 2005), the Open Skies Consultative Commission (September-December 2008), the Third Open Skies Treaty Review Conference (June 2015).
 
In 2003 under the Belarus chairmanship there was one of fundamental documents of the “second basket” drafted – the OSCE Strategy Document for the Economic and Environmental Dimension, adopted at the Maastricht meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of OSCE member-states. At the initiative of Belarus the Sofia Council of Foreign Ministers meeting (2004) approved a decision on combating corruption; the Madrid Ministerial Council (2007) adopted a decision on protecting critical energy infrastructure from terrorist attacks. In preparation to the annual OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum there was the first transport conference held in Minsk in March 2010.
 
A visit of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, First Deputy Prime-Minister and Foreign Minister of Serbia Ivica Dačić to Belarus in July 2015 and his participation in the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine once again reconfirmed Belarus’ reputation as a reliable security “provider” in the OSCE region, its significant role in settlement the crisis in Ukraine.
 
Traditionally, Belarus actively participate in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s activities. Our work has naturally resulted in adoption at the Tbilisi session of the Assembly in July 2016 a decision to have its next regular session in 2017 in Minsk. It will be for the first time ever that in July 2017 Belarus will host such a large-scale event, which will contribute to strengthening our country’s position in OSCE and internationally. And we are strongly focused on its substantial implementation.
 
At least in the nearest future OSCE will remain for Belarus an important channel to convey our position to others, a tool to promote foreign policy initiatives, a platform of critical dialogue with the European Union and the United States and international expertise, attracted in the interests of our country.
 
The multilateral aspect would be incomplete without objective assessment of the role played by the North Atlantic Alliance. Development of pragmatic relations with NATO corresponds to the task of strengthening Belarus’ security. Since joining the “Partnership for Peace” programme in 1995 our country has been developing relations with Alliance in such fields as civil emergency planning, crisis management, military training, arms control, countering international terrorism and transnational organised crime, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, preparation to participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, medical assistance and language training.
 
Certain actions that have been taken by NATO recently, are inacceptable to us. However, challenges must be taken in a calm, firm and well-thought manner, within our obligations to closest partners, but at the same time, basing on real conditions and not on artificially generated radical scenarios.
The resume is simple: keep your gunpowder dry but don’t brandish either arm or powder flask in vain.

Chapter II

Development and “crystallization” of the foreign policy of Belarus and its economic priorities took place against completely new historical surroundings at the turn of the XX and XXI centuries. It is impossible to speak of achievements or failures of the Belarusian diplomacy without taking into account the modern context. Such environment largely determines specific nature of diplomatic activity, its objectives and certain parameters.
 
The world has entered the era of global geopolitical and economic transformations. We face new and, in some cases, considerably altered, “mutated” challenges and threats: unprecedented growth of terrorism and regional conflicts, severe social and economic crises, collision of contrasting geopolitical interests of global players.
Constraints, typical of the US vs. USSR confrontation period, have greatly weakened. There is an expanding list of world’s powers using armed forces abroad without sanctions of the UN Security Council. Military conflicts reassume their role as acceptable means of resolving disputes.
 
We are witnessing radicalization in the Middle East, emergence of the so-called Islamic State and, as a consequence, a bloody war in Syria, persistent acts of terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists openly join groups of many thousands and conduct large-scale combat operations with heavy weapons on territories of several countries at once.
 
These events have also affected Europe, which may have recently seemed to be safe, though struck by migration crisis. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has shown how fragile are “frozen” conflicts. International legal mechanisms are faltering today and there is a menace that the rule of law will be replaced by the rule of force. The world rigorously competes for economic resources: energy, raw materials, food, water, innovations and skilled labour force.
 
In such complicated conditions Belarus, situated at a geopolitical “rift” between the East and the West, has demonstrated ability to remain an established state with a stable social and political system, which adequately responds to new challenges and threats, and effectively adapts to external factors.
Implementation of the multi-vector foreign policy principle of Belarus has been the most significant achievement over the years of our country's independence.
 
To some forces the growing polarization of the world turns into an occasion to act as hard as it has never been before, posing a question before other countries and their leaders: “Which side are you on?” and assuming an answer “You’re either with us, or against us.”
 
And Belarus is not an exception here. Both the East and the West have been persistently pushing us to a so-called “final geopolitical choice”. The closest neighbouring countries are good examples of what such coercion could lead to.
 
In our turn we patiently explain to our partners that Belarus has its own national interests and they do not coincide with focusing on a single direction only. Our choice is a multi-vector approach as an optimal principle for state’s development. And this is not “a split between two chairs”, as some argue, but a systematic elaboration of internal and external conditions in order to build a multiplicity of geopolitical anchors.
 
Our aim is to strengthen cooperation with all of our neighbours. Belarus seeks to positively balance its interests between different poles of power, to build relations with the East and the West, the South and the North as strong as possible but not with prejudice or at the expense of others. Our country has been always offering a dialogue to those who are ready to build relations with Belarus on equal footing, without dictate or coercion.
 
There is no doubt, that political sovereignty of Belarus is guaranteed by its solid economic foundation established during the Soviet years and not lost, like in several other countries. On the contrary, over the years of independence it was multiplied.
 
In a quarter of a century, Belarus with its open economy and despite a strong competition in the world markets managed to reach success in export of goods and services. Today “economic diplomacy” is a hallmark of the Belarusian state.
 
Our country is one of the world exporters of trucks, tractors, road machinery and municipal transport. Belarus produces 17 percent of all combines, 9 percent of all tractors. Belarus mining dump trucks producer “BelAZ” holds up to 30 percent of the world market. The Belarus’ share in the world market of butter is 11 percent, milk – 5 percent, flax fibre – 6.5 percent.
 
Our country is known for such brands, as “MTZ”, “MAZ”, “BelAZ” as well as for a new generation of engineering products, which include i.a. railway rolling stocks, produced in cooperation with the Swiss company “Stadler”, and for Belarusian-Chinese cars “Geely”. 
 
IT-products of the Hi-Tech Park are in the world-wide demand. Many of them, without exaggeration, have gained immense popularity. A high-tech export is increasing. The High-Tech Park’s export in 2015 reached 706 mln USD and exceeds that of traditional goods, such as combines (by 5.6 times), tyres (by 2.7 times) or trucks (by 1.2 times).
 
In order to strengthen the system of foreign economic activity the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with other bodies of state administration developed a National Export Promotion Program for the years 2016-2020 and a roadmap for its implementation.
 
In recent years, Belarus managed to build a harmonious distribution network overseas and to increase a list of dealers and service centres of Belarusian exporters. This corresponds to approaches of transnational corporations while promoting products to the world market. As of today there are 305 Belarusian entities that control a distribution network with Belarusian capital (or shares, owned by Belarusian companies) in 40 countries and more than 80 assembly plants located in 22 countries.
 
In 2016 we resumed active negotiations on Belarus’ accession to the WTO, which under favourable conditions may result in formal membership of our country in the Organization.
 
The Head of State has set up a task to reach by the year 2020 a stable configuration of export and its distribution on the principle of “one third per each market”. Thus we must provide consistent diversification of export and achieve its proportional delivery to every of the three markets: the Eurasian Economic Union, the European Union and the so-called “far arc” countries’ market.
 
Of course, this is not an easy task. It will require huge efforts of diplomatic service, enterprises and their marketing units, other stakeholders, but the game is “worth the candle”: a success will make it possible to balance foreign trade by reducing the risk of Belarus’ dependence on the situation in partner countries’ economies.
While addressing this objective and a number of other political and economic tasks, it is hard to overestimate the role of the Belarus diplomatic missions. Expansion of diplomatic presence of the Republic of Belarus in the world has become a distinctive feature of the establishment of sovereignty and at the same time has turned into an important tool for promotion of political, economic and trade interests.
 
In 1990 our country had its missions only at international organizations with the UN topping the list. Independence, establishment of diplomatic relations with foreign partners, radical geopolitical changes and new challenges in trade and economy gave impetus to formation of a network of Belarus diplomatic missions.
 
Today, the Republic of Belarus has diplomatic missions in 59 countries. Taking into account ambassadors with concurrent accreditation, our country is represented in 116 out of 177 countries, with which we have established diplomatic relations. It is worth noting that 177 countries is more than 90 percent of the UN member states total number (193). Belarusian diplomats are well demanded in OSCE missions (including field missions); work for international organizations, hone their skills in CSTO, EEC and CIS bodies.
 
Directly or concurrently we are represented in all major regions of the world. Decisions on whether to open new embassies are based on an in-depth analysis of prospects of the new markets and opportunities for their development through existing missions abroad. Emphasis is placed on an «umbrella» principle of covering specific regions through pivotal missions. After all, this approach guarantees concentration of efforts and resources which we cannot afford diffusing inefficiently.
 
Human resource management in Belarus diplomatic service is conducted scrupulously and under a very demanding and careful attention of the state leadership. A modern departmental regulatory framework has been set up. A team of high professionals devoted to Motherland and able to quickly resolve non-standard problems has been created. A system of diplomats training in Belarusian universities has been improved.
 
MFA and embassies’ personnel is motivated to address tasks of state importance: to expand range of partners and allies, to minimize pressure of opponents, to counteract attempts aimed at forcing Belarus out of addressing issues affecting national interests, to promote national security in all dimensions, including economy (growth of exports, optimization of its structure, attraction of investments). Figuratively speaking, the current MFA is a real “combat unit” in the state’s “arsenal”.
 
Priorities of the consular service, which is an integral part of the MFA, have not changed: to protect rights and interests of individuals and legal entities of Belarus abroad, to provide assistance to our compatriots who find themselves in emergency situations abroad, to help our citizens return from areas of armed conflicts and natural disasters.
 
The Republic of Belarus maintained continuity with the achievements of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in development of the international legal component of its foreign policy.
 
Despite being a union republic the Byelorussian SSR acted as a subject of international law and an independent participant in international relations. It was in this capacity that the Byelorussian SSR became a UN founder, signed peace treaties with Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, Hungary and Finland, participated in the development and adoption of the Treaty on Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and formally joined a number of other agreements within the framework of the UN and its specialized agencies.
 
In principle, major milestones in developing the Belarus legal framework in international relations in 1991-2016 mirror objectives, which were set up before the foreign ministry.
 
At the first stage after adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus, one of its key priorities was legal registration of the borders and establishment of diplomatic relations with partner countries.
 
In 1991-1994 Belarus signed more than 500 bilateral treaties aimed at creating a legal framework for bilateral cooperation. Agreements on establishment of diplomatic relations were signed with the former Soviet Union countries, as well as with China, the United States, most of European states and a significant number of those in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Another important direction of our work was signing agreements on economic, trade and sectoral cooperation.
 
The next period in development of the legal framework (1995-2006) is characterized by a balance between bilateral and multilateral cooperation formats. Belarus formally acceded to a wide range of multilateral treaties adopted under the auspices of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and other international organizations (IAEA, WIPO, UNESCO, UNECE), managed to strengthen relations with international organizations.
 
The period from 2007 to the present times is marked by growing role of integration organizations: from foundation of the Customs Union and Common Economic Space to the current stage of development of the Eurasian Economic Union. On October 6, 2007 in Dushanbe, the Treaty on the Establishment of the Common Customs Territory and Formation of the Customs Union was signed. About 40 agreements constituting the legal framework of the Customs Union were adopted in 2009 at the level of heads of states and governments and later ratified. Their implementation resulted in a new stage of integration associated with signing the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union (May 29, 2014, effective on January 1, 2015). Later on efforts were focused on the EAEU regulatory framework development.
 
At present, we intensify the work on diversification of Belarus’ international cooperation. It is accompanied by conclusion of international agreements with both “far arc” countries and the EU member states.
 
Modern Belarus’ legal framework includes more than 4,000 international treaties. A simple arithmetic calculation shows that this corresponds to 2-3 agreements per week, if to consider the entire period of independence. Yet there are months of preparation, editing, approval and ratification behind each document. Just imagine the workload and its intensity!

Chapter III

Modern Belarus diplomacy is focused on the country’s active participation in international processes. One can say that Belarus is “in trend” today because of its principled and consistent foreign policy. And this is the very thing that contributed to the qualitatively different and “new reading” of Belarus in the West.
 
The capital of our country today is associated in the world with the OSCE Minsk Group, that was formed to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (Minsk Process), as well as with the Minsk Agreements, internationally recognised as the only basis for resolving a conflict in Ukraine. Since 2014 the city of Minsk is a place for Trilateral Contact Group meetings “Ukraine-Russia-OSCE”.
 
Agreements on de-escalation of the situation in Donbass have contributed to strengthening the Belarus’ image as a neutral state with a serious peacekeeping potential. It is extremely important, that we have not let ourselves to be involved into confrontation provoked by the Ukrainian crisis.
 
Our objective position contributed to normalisation of political dialogue with the EU, the US and Canada that in their turn lifted or postponed majority of unnatural anti-belarusian sanctions. More and more representatives of the western establishment give up chronic stereotypes about Minsk and this in its turn leads to a more objective viewpoint on processes inside and outside our country. This is important from the point of view of Belarus political positioning and expanding its circle of trade and economic allies and partners.
 
And it was not by occasion that the President of Belarus put forward an idea to start a new peace process similar to that of Helsinki. Basing on this idea during the Hamburg OSCE Foreign Ministers meeting the Belarusian side invited leaders of Russia, the US, the EU, China and other big players to a frank exchange of opinions on reasons of crisis in international affairs. It is important to give a start to thinking about new rules of an emerging multipolarity with absolute respect for each other’s interests.
 
Belarus foreign policy is a policy of seeking opportunities and their effective pursue. We do not overestimate out potential and our possibilities. However Belarusians know how much they are worth.
 
For years of independence a solid fundament of relations has been built with our key strategic ally – the Russian Federation, both bilaterally and at various integration platforms.
 
During 2012-2016 bilateral trade between Belarus and Russia reached its peaks: in 2012 the trade volume was 43.86 bln USD, which is by 8.5 times higher than in 1992. In 2013 export from Belarus to Russia reached 16.8 bln USD and it was by 7.7 times higher than in 1995. Russia traditionally was the top trade partner of Belarus in January-October 2016, while Belarus improved its positioning among Russian trade partners: from 5th to 4th place after China, Germany and the Netherlands.
 
Every second Belarusian entity has close business ties with Russian partners. Serious investment cooperation is being developed and the Belarus NPP construction in Ostrovets is at the top of the most significant joint projects.
 
Unfortunately all the processes that happen in the region now (Ukrainian crisis, mutual sanctions between Russia and the EU, etc.) leave an imprint on Belarus and Russia relations. Where does it show up? Marginal politics, engaged mass-media and experts attempt to cultivate a negative image of Belarus in Russian society as a “sponger of Russia”. A natural desire of Belarus is to normalise relations with the EU and the USA, to reach at least to the level of cooperation with the West similar to that of Russia and other post-Soviet republics is interpreted as a “Belarus retreat to the West” and improper execution of alliance commitments. Artificial problems are created in trade and economic field, fuel and energy, border interaction and in other areas.
 
However both heads of states and the people of Belarus and Russia have a deep belief that all this “foam” will rush back again and nobody will be able to cause a quarrel between two friendly states in favour of someone’s mercantile interests or to break integrational ties that have no equivalent in the post-soviet area.
 
First of all I mean the Union State. Initial priority given to “human dimension” has turned out to be its integrational marker. During years of scrupulous work there has been a common market from Brest to Vladivostok re-created. Within this area Belarusians and Russians have generally equal rights in employment, education, social security, medicine, purchase of housing, and business opportunities. Citizens enjoy freedom of movement and residence. The union budget allocates finances for a number of union programmes in various fields, including space, IT, microelectronics, agriculture, mitigating Chernobyl catastrophe consequences.
 
The year of 2016 was of extreme importance from the point of view of formation and development of the Eurasian economic integration. Belarus, as one of the Eurasian Economic Union’s founding states, significantly contributed to this process.
 
On January 1, 2016 a cabotage transport services liberalisation programme was launched. Main directions of industrial cooperation within the EAEU were defined and put into operation.
 
Heads of states adopted in 2016 EAEU concepts aimed at formation of common markets of gas, oil and petroleum products. Adoption of those documents was the first step towards creation of the Union’s common energy markets in 2019-2025. It is of special importance that documents comprise general rules of price formation irrespective of whether an economic entity belongs to one or another union-state.
 
In many ways as a result of a principled position of official Minsk the work over a new edition of the EAEU Customs Code came to its logical end. Thought with a delay a EAEU common market of medicines and medical products started to function.
 
Effective steps were taken to develop and implement the EAEU common trade policy. In October 2016 a Free Trade Agreement between EAEU and Vietnam came into force. Preparation and signing of similar agreements with other important Union’s trade partners are under consideration. An interest to cooperation with the EAEU in this or another form was expressed by 40 states, India and China i.a.
 
Being at the borderline of the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union logically advocates creation of sustainable dialogue and cooperation mechanisms between these two largest integration institutions.
 
Eurasian integration should not be limited by the western direction only. Its close collaboration with states and economic alliances in the East, China i.a., Asia-Pacific region countries, and other partners should become a major objective. Significant benefits for realisation of our trade-economic and investment interests could be brought by connectivity of EAEU integration processes with the development of integration within SCO, ASEAN, other regional associations.
 
Meanwhile one has to note, that the Union’s main objectives have not yet been reached. These are creation of conditions for free movement of goods, services, capital and labour in the EAEU markets without exemptions and limitations and a coordinated policy in key economic sectors.
In such a situation the Belarusian side is constantly drawing attention of its partners to the problem of barriers, exemptions and limitations in trade and their elimination.
 
No mechanism has been developed to provide EAEU proper functioning in circumstances when one of its member-states introduces unilateral market protection measures targeted against third countries. This leads to the next unsolved and principled question – securing freedom of transit when delivering goods from third countries to their final consumers through the EAEU member-states territories.
Equal access of all the five member-states’ companies to state procurements in all Union’s countries has to be ensured. The same is true as far as developing, agreeing and applying market protection measures is concerned.
It is necessary to move on step by step in other fields covered by the EAEU founding act, including implementation of coordinated policies in industry, agriculture, transport, exchange rate policy, liberalisation of trade in services within the Union, cooperation in the field of labour migration.
In 2015 Belarus became an observer-country of the Shanghai cooperation organisation (SCO) and received similar status in other regional institutions, like the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) needs a special attention. In December 2016 the CIS celebrated its 25th anniversary. The CIS has gone through a complex way. Its processes are controversial, being a reason for critical assessments of effectiveness of this structure. Frankly speaking, in some cases such critic is justified.
A kind of a response to the criticism was given in Bishkek, where the CIS heads of state council approved a decision on adapting the Commonwealth to current realities, thus giving it a vector of further development. Implementation of that decision envisages improvement of work efficiency in statutory and other bodies of the organisation, reduction of financial expenses and improvement of human resource policy.
New questions have shown up in the agenda, among them – strengthening the coordinating role of the bodies responsible for sectoral cooperation, which needs to be shaped in a systematic and target-oriented manner.
 
In view of deteriorating relations between our two key partners – Russia and Ukraine – a fresh look at implementation of the free trade zone agreement is obviously needed. Belarus urges parties to patience and endurance. The Commonwealth has already lost a lot after Georgia left it. Further disintegration will reduce the CIS economic and political potential. This is even more important, since we started a number of very ambitious projects in CIS under our FTA agreement, and are working on creation of a single market of public procurement and a free trade market of services.
 
CIS legislative base also needs revision. There have been a lot of decisions, treaties and agreements signed during the previous 25 years. Some of them have either lost their relevance or duplicate documents adopted within other integrational organisations.
 
The international scientific-practical conference “25 years of CIS: results and perspectives” held in 2016 in Minsk turned into a kind of a factory of fresh ideas and actual proposals for the CIS agenda. It concluded with specific suggestions on how to disclose the CIS potential in practically all directions.
 
During the years of independence we maintained traditionally friendly relations with the former USSR member-states and gave them a new perception. Embassies of Belarus are present in all CIS countries and this is a good indicator of close relations with our partners. In 2016 a mission of Belarus was opened in Georgia.
 
The President of Belarus regularly meets with his colleagues from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. The EAEU as a platform opens new perspectives for activation of interaction with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. A constructive dialogue has been arranged with leaders of Ukraine despite crisis events in the western part of the country. Contacts with Uzbekistan became more active.
 
And here it is necessary to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Different vectors of our partner’s ambitions are not considered as obstacles for us in bilateral relations. A good confirmation of this is promotion of contacts with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine even after they have signed EU association agreements.
 
Belarusian producers secured their positions at the CIS markets. About 30 percent of tractors imported to Ukraine belongs to JSC “Minsk Tractor Works” (MTZ), 35 percent of trucks market – to JSC “Minsk Automobile Plant” (MAZ), more than 40 percent of float-glass market – to JSC “Gomelglass” and more than 92 percent of potash market – to JSC “Belarusian Potash Company”. The share of MTZ tractors in the total amount of those imported to Kazakhstan’s market increased from 38 percent in 2013 to 64 percent in 2016 and the share of Belarusian combine harvesters reached the share of 44 percent.
 
There are more than 20 assembling shops functioning in CIS that have already produced tens of thousands of Belarusian machines. Cooperation with the Ganja automobile plant in Azerbaijan can be referred to as a success story. But the largest project implemented by Belarusian specialists abroad is that of construction of a Garlyk mining and processing plant in Turkmenistan which aims at producing potash fertilizers and is worth of 1 bln USD.
 
During the last two years Belarus managed to enter new markets with new high-tech products. Belarusian unmanned aircraft complexes were supplied to Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan and Georgia received electric trains “Stadler”. Belarusian software developers strengthened their positions at the CIS markets.
 
A change in perception of Belarus which follows the balanced foreign policy of our country (including also the “Ukrainian issue”) has to a great extent stipulated a kind of a “breakthrough” in the West. In 2016 most of sanctions against Belarus were lifted or postponed by the EU, the US and Canada. During the last two years there was much more done at the European vector of our foreign policy than, to put it tentatively, during the two decades of the “sanction diplomacy”.
 
Top and high level contacts were revitalised. Cooperation areas with the European Union were broadened and match results of 6 rounds of consultations in 2014-2016 on modernisation issues, negotiations on draft agreements on visa-regime liberalization and readmission. In October 2016 a Joint Declaration between the European Union and Belarus on Mobility Partnership was signed.
 
It was the first time in history that the Political and Security Committee of the EU Council delegation composed of all 28 EU permanent representatives came to Belarus in November 2016. The delegation was received by the President of Belarus.
 
There was a Belarus-EU Coordination Group formed, which became a basis for a structured dialogue between the parties (two meetings of the Group were held in May and November 2016). In May 2015 Belarus and the EU signed an agreement on an Early Warning Mechanism in the Energy Sector. Belarus was accepted to the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Process). In 2015 Belarus suggested a new flagship initiative on harmonisation of digital markets of the EU states and partner countries, approved and accepted for realisation by members of the EU and Eastern Partnership.
 
Bilateral relations with the EU member countries experienced a positive turning point. To a great extent Belarus is viewed by partners as an important regional player significantly contributing to the development of Europe and its security. The President of Belarus visited Italy and Vatican in May 2016. Our country was visited by the Chairman of the Government of the Slovak Republic Robert Fico (November 2016), the Marshal of the Sejm of Poland Stanisław Karczewski (December 2016). It was symbolic by nature that foreign ministers of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and of France Jean-Marc Ayrault visited Minsk to take part in the meeting of the “Normandy format” foreign ministers (November 2016).
 
Opening of the Belarus Embassy in the Kingdom of Spain and reopening of the Belarus Embassy in Kingdom of Sweden in 2016 will facilitate cooperation with these two important EU member states.
 
Cooperation is also expanding with the European countries that are not members of the EU. The first official visit of the leader of the Republic of Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Republic of Belarus in November 2016 was a historic event in bilateral relations with this country.
 
Europe remains the second major market for Belarusian goods and a leading source of investment and loans for our economy. The EU accounts for about a half of all foreign capital raised. The EU accounted for more than 25 per cent in Belarus’ foreign trade in 2015, and more than 32 per cent in its total exports. By the way, over the past 20 years, considering all the sanctions and absence of any fundamental agreements between Belarus and the EU our trade turnover increased by 40 times, and amounted to 20 bln USD as early as in 2014. Moreover, Belarus is one of the few countries that have a surplus in trade with the EU (in January-November 2016 it amounted to more than 353 mln USD).
 
In 2015, the EU member states invested in Belarus 5.5 bln USD (48.7 percent of all attracted investments), including direct investments of 3.6 bln USD (nearly half of all direct investments). For the first 9 months of 2016, it was respectively 2.7 and 2.3 bln USD.
 
An important promising line of economic cooperation with the EU member states is the development of logistics infrastructure of Belarusian exports via the ports of the Baltic States.
 
On June 16, 2016 in Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) an annual foreign ministers meeting of the Central European Initiative was held. Belarus assumed Presidency in the organization in 2017 and for the first time in history will preside in a European sub-regional international organization outside the former Soviet Union.
While not a member of the Council of Europe, Belarus carries out comprehensive cooperation with this organization, possessing a considerable expertise that can be and should be used in the interests of our country.
 
In 2016, the CoE Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Action Plan for Belarus for 2016-2017. It was the first time since 1997 that such a document was developed and adopted with due account of the positions and priorities of our relevant ministries and departments.
 
Belarus is a party to 14 CoE international treaties. Accession to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (2013), the Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings (2014) and the Additional Protocol to the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (2015) expanded the scope of our cooperation with the CoE. In 2015, Belarus signed the Declaration on Jurisdictional Immunities of State Owned Cultural Property, and in 2016, the Additional Protocol to the Anti-Doping Convention. Belarus is considering joining the CoE Convention on the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health.
 
Our country participates in full in 7 CoE steering committees (for Higher Education and Research, for Sport, for Youth, for Culture, Heritage and Landscape, Ad Hoc European Committee for the World Anti-Doping Agency, for Bern Convention, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings). Belarusian experts are also invited as observers to six CoE committees (on Legal Cooperation, for Human Rights, on Media and Information Society, on Public International Law, the Pharmacopoeia Commission, the Committee for the prevention of emergency situations), and participates ad hoc in the work of the Pompidou Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs. Representatives of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus participate in sessions of the Venice Commission.
For the first time since 2001, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) took part in monitoring the presidential elections in Belarus in 2015 at the invitation of the Belarusian Parliament. The decision of the House of Representatives to invite the PACE to participate in the observation of the parliamentary elections in Belarus in 2016 had a positive response. Despite the fact that Minsk had no such obligations before the organization, this step contributed to normalization of relations between Belarus and the Council of Europe, and in a broader context, with the West.
Lifting of most of the sanctions against Belarus opened a “window of opportunity” for the development of a full-format dialogue with the West in all spheres of interaction, first of all in the most significant for us – in economy, trade and investment, including access of Belarus to the resources of international and European financial institutions. In September 2016 the European Commission listed Belarus among other countries eligible to receive the European Investment Bank funding under the EU guarantee. A key long-term objective is full normalization of relations, conclusion of a basic agreement between Belarus and the European Union and further intensification of the dialogue with the United States of America.
The latter is crucial in understanding that the US remains a de facto superpower and largely determines the course of global events. Unfortunately, most of cooperation projects have been discontinued as soon as the US announced its policy of “selective engagement” towards Belarus in January 1997. However, even during the times of acute political disagreements we maintained common interests in ensuring regional and global security. We have not stopped cooperation on these issues. An example is the northern route of delivery (the Northern Distribution Network), under which Belarus provided its territory for transportation of cargo for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
 
These relations are currently developing in a positive way. Washington abolished most of the restrictive measures and they no longer serve as a determining factor for our interaction. Sanctions against Belorusneft, Beltechexport and BelOMO were lifted. For the Belarusian Potash Company barriers were removed in the United States, which is a premium market for Belarusian potassium.
 
Act of “freezing” of sanctions against Belneftekhim and its affiliated companies for another 6 months was extended by the US until the end of April 2017. Washington abandoned its former negative recommendation to American businessmen and investors in respect of our country, supports Belarus’ accession to the WTO and does not impede development of relations between the regions.
 
We traditionally cooperate in the field of nuclear and radiation safety, including on the issues on prevention of illicit transit of nuclear materials and protection of intellectual property rights. Belarus and US law enforcement agencies interact, in particular, with regard to fight against cybercrime. The two countries agreed on launching a Belarus-US Economic Dialogue. Awareness of Belarus among US politicians, businessmen and ordinary citizens has increased and all this inspires cautious optimism.
Considering the Washington’s reaction to the results of the parliamentary elections in Belarus we sincerely hope that the new US administration in the White House will give us an opportunity at least to “reset” our relations if not to start with a clean slate. And, of course, it would be very desirable to see Washington abandon its political inertia with respect to our state when addressing issues important for Belarus.
 
In terms of formation of a proper “third pillar” of our foreign policy, Belarus considers further strengthening the “far arc” allies and partners to be of utmost importance.
In recent years Belarus ensured a stable dynamics of political and economic dialogue with traditional and new partners in Asia. Development of cooperation with China, Vietnam, India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia was the most energetic. Embassies of Belarus were opened in Mongolia, Pakistan and Australia.
A significant progress has been achieved in relations with China, which in fact have developed into a trust-based strategic partnership and a mutually beneficial cooperation. It is hard to overestimate importance of our cooperation. The very fact that the Head of State has signed the Directive No. 5 “On development of bilateral relations between Belarus and the People's Republic of China” proves our special attention to this potential superpower.
 
Dozens of important projects in energy, aerospace, transport and construction sectors are implemented or are being planned to be implemented in Belarus with Chinese capital. Belarusian satellite launched from China’s Xichang Launch Center and creation of modern defense systems have brought our technological cooperation to a new level. We hope that innovation and investment components will become the core of our engagement with China in the nearest future.
 
Belarus’ involvement in a new global economic project – the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREP) – should have a significant impact on increasing investment attractiveness of the Belarusian economy, expanding trade flows, developing new industries, transport and logistics schemes and creating jobs.
 
One of key places in our partnership belongs to the China-Belarus Industrial Park “Great Stone”, which is in fact a Silk Road Economic Belt’s foothold in Eurasia. It was not a random, but a strategic decision of Beijing to build the largest foreign industrial park in Belarus with Chinese capital. The rationale lies in Belarus’ favourable geographical position, well-developed transport infrastructure, highly skilled workers and specialists. Our interest in this project is to develop green industries to produce innovative and high-tech products.
 
Another important partner for us is Vietnam. In 2015, the President Alexander Lukashenko paid a state visit to this country. It was agreed to intensify industrial cooperation and to increase trade turnover between countries to 0.5 bln USD.
 
Belarus was one of several driving forces of the initiative to conclude a Free Trade Agreement between the EAEU States and Vietnam. In view of the commenced functioning of the FTA between Vietnam and the EAEU member-states and the duty-free trade within ASEAN on October 5, 2016 Belarus regards Vietnam as a springboard for development of joint ventures. Indeed, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is one of key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 10 states and a market of half a billion people.
 
Development of comprehensive relations with India takes up an important part in the Belarus multi-vector foreign policy and balanced implementation of our interests in Asia. The first in the history of our relations visit of the President of India Pranab Mukherjee to Belarus in June 2015 was a significant milestone in the Belarusian-Indian cooperation. India announced its recognition of our country’s market economy status and set up a roadmap for bilateral cooperation. More than ten memoranda and commercial contracts were signed on the sidelines of a joint business forum. Within the framework of the SCO Summit in Tashkent in June 2016 a meeting between the Head of the Belarusian State and the Prime Minister of India Narendra Damodardas Modi was held. India’s investments into the Belarusian economy are increasing in high-tech sectors, especially in the pharmaceutical industry with a pursue to realize finished products at the vast markets of EU and EAEU.
 
Another key partner of Belarus in ASEAN is Indonesia. A landmark event in bilateral relations was the first visit of the Belarus state delegation headed by the President Alexander Lukashenko to Indonesia and Singapore in March 2013.
 
In July 2015 on the sidelines of BRICS and SCO summits held in Ufa, the President Alexander Lukashenko met the President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. The top level meeting was followed by intensification of the Belarusian-Iranian economic, trade and investment cooperation and signing a roadmap for cooperation in 2016-2017.
One of the most promising Belarus’ partners in South Asia is Pakistan. In a relatively short period of time we managed to bring bilateral relations to a qualitatively new level. In 2014 the Belarusian Embassy was opened in Islamabad, and in 2015 the Pakistan Embassy started operating in Minsk. In 2015-2016 a series of exchange visits were organized at the top and high levels. Necessary prerequisites were established to use mutual industrial and investment potential of the two countries, develop large-scale joint projects in third states and increase bilateral trade turnover.
 
We managed to restore and to increase our presence in Africa and the Middle East. Relations with the countries of those distant regions are characterized by mutual understanding in political sphere, including also in the international arena. However, our absolute priority is the economic component of our relations.
 
Some experts forecast, that by the middle of the XXI century Africa will turn into the fastest growing market. Its purchasing power is increasing at the most rapid pace in the world, and this is where the mass consumer will be found in the near future. The Middle East boasts of the richest Gulf monarchies, which have resource potential and investment opportunities. Accordingly, it is necessary to look towards the future and act in advance not to jump afterwards on to the step of the last train.
Projects are being implemented in agricultural, industrial and special areas. As of today Belarusian equipment assembly lines can be found in Egypt and Algeria. Despite turbulent situation in Syria there are agreements on setting up an assembly plant of MAZ trucks in this country.
 
Cooperation with Africa is intensifying largely due to formation of reliable product promotion channels. We continue working with traditional partners such as Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South African Republic. Ghana, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Mozambique are considered as new “points of growth”.
 
New trading houses of Belarusian enterprises were established in promising countries such as Egypt and South African Republic. Opening of a trading house in Nigeria in 2014 is aimed at ensuring supply of many brands manufactured in Belarus to African countries. Particular emphasis is placed on promotion of high-tech products.
 
Visits of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to Cairo and Khartoum in January 2017 gave a strong impetus to cooperation with Egypt and Sudan. Fruitful top level negotiations confirmed wide possibilities to expand Belarus’ presence at those markets: from machine building and geological exploration to agriculture and export of services.
 
Special attention is paid to interaction with regional structures, first of all with the African Union. With diplomatic assistance our partners developed their interest and expanded their understanding of benefits from working with Belarus as an important source of advanced technologies and modern equipment.
 
Neither do we forget the fact that Belarus is a full-fledged member of the Non-Alignment Movement. For our country this is an additional channel and a resource of practical bilateral cooperation. We are also expanding cooperation with such influential regional organizations as the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
 
In ten years since 2005 export to Africa tripled and to the Middle East countries it almost doubled.
 
Belarus began to export BelAZ mining equipment and petroleum products to Angola, potash fertilizers to Ethiopia, nitrogen fertilizers to Senegal, petroleum products, tires and X-ray equipment to Kenya, construction ceramics to Togo and tobacco products to Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.
 
By October 1, 2016 the Middle East and African countries’ investments accumulated in Belarusian economy reached 567 mln USD (of which direct investment was almost 132 mln USD). A powerful investment potential of the Middle East is used efficiently. A hotel and a sports complex were constructed in Minsk in 2015 worth of 200 mln USD (Qatar). Construction of a multifunctional hotel complex led Kopaonik Investment (UAE) reaches its final stage.
 
Belarus interests in Africa are most effectively promoted in Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique based on cooperation between business communities of those countries and Belarus enterprises. We managed to strengthen relations with the Middle East countries and even with those that belong to different sides of confrontation engulfing the region.
 
The official visit of the President of Belarus to Cuba in 2000 became the first top-level visit to Latin America in the modern history of our country and, in fact, marked the beginning of our presence in the region. Many people did not believe that the world politics “backyard”, as some politicians disparagingly called Latin America, would turn out to be promising. We had a completely different view of things. And the time has shown that we were right.
 
Friendship and partnership relations with Cuban leaders and growing authority of Belarus in international fora contributed to establishment of close cooperation ties with Venezuela. Its leader Hugo Chávez became the first Latin American President to visit Belarus in 2006. Largely because of intensive interstate top level dialogue, Belarus-Venezuela relations have grown into a real strategic partnership. Economic relations are developing in all fields, from construction and oil refining to joint ventures busy with assembling tractors, trucks and road-building machinery.
 
Official Caracas contributed to strengthening of our capabilities in this very promising for us region and became a springboard for promoting Belarus’ interests to other countries in Latin America. In 2010, the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visited Brazil for the first time in Belarus history. In 2012 he paid a visit to Ecuador. 
 
Belarus understands such countries of the region as Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Ecuador and is in tune with their foreign policy, advocating independence, and socially oriented home policy. Interests in establishing a multipolar world turn our countries into allies in international fora and create political preconditions for a long-term partnership.
 
As a result of our promotional activities exports of goods from Belarus to Latin America countries in the last 15 years increased by six times if compared with that in the year of 2000.
 
New footholds and additional safety cushions developed in the “far-arc” countries promote growth of awareness of Belarus in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. In its turn it contributes to further diversification of exports and improved level of political cooperation between Minsk and its distant partners.

Conclusions

Of course, such a short excursus to the history of Belarus independence through its foreign policy is by far incomplete and doesn’t pretend to be something it is not. Today Belarus is yet summing up preliminary results. And there is a long and very complex road ahead.
 
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an inseparable part of the state. It works together with other governmental institutions, business and civil societies and professionally contributes to strengthening and modernisation of Belarus, protects the country’s political and economic interests in international fora. It must be clearly understood that effective implementation of the policy aimed at securing national independence and sovereignty is a result of complex efforts of all institutions, entities, working teams, scientists and experts. We are proud of our outstanding sportsmen and representatives of culture, who serve as ours full-fledged “ambassadors”.
 
The greatest merit of the first President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is that he has successfully united efforts of the whole nation around a clear and generous aim – creation of a really independent, sovereign and prosperous state. At the most difficult times he inspired people’s trust in their abilities to define their own and their children’s destiny, and further supported this trust by his policy.
 
Building our country today we have something to make a start from.
 
We have saved and multiplied a powerful industrial, scientific and human potential. We are heading to provision of our energy security. The first Belarusian nuclear power plant will be built in compliance with high security standards and international legal requirements.
 
International, inter-confessional accord and tolerance have become visiting cards of our state. Their genuine value shows up today when the world is stricken by wars and terrorist attacks. And our partners are frank in telling us all this. Modern Belarus is with no exaggeration one of security pillars in the European region.
Constructive, balanced and responsible foreign policy of our country receives more recognition internationally.
 
We have someone and something to be proud with. We have something to leave behind for our descendants. Having stepped into a new round of development Belarus can and must play a more significant role both in regional and in world politics.
 
History shows that new challenges are at the same time new chances. New chances to overcome inertia and enter a new quality of technological development, “advanced” standards of social and economic development, to achieve objectives that for one reason or another have remained unimplemented until now.
 
And we are the only to determine how these chances are to be used.
 
Having started with a saying I would like to finish with a saying as well. However these will be already the words of a Russian scientist, a genius constructor and a founder of modern cosmonautics Konstantin Tsiolkovsky “The impossible today will be possible tomorrow”.