Dear Ambassadors, representatives of the neighboring countries,
Welcome to this get together. I will say just a few words in my introduction, before the Foreign Minister will share his views with us. I am not an expert on Belarus, I have to admit that. But we all have been following the trend of the events recently, starting maybe last summer, and before that. We realize that there is a potential turning point in the development of wider European relations. Without going too much into details, one realizes that there are developing relations in Europe at large and in Belarus foreign relations as well. There have been some frictions, if I can put it that way, in the relations between Belarus and Russia of the economic and maybe political character as well. As a diplomat, I can say that Belarus has been reorienting its foreign policy, at least to some extent. There is a new type of rapprochement emerging between the European Union and Belarus. And of course we all are facing similar problems concerning the economic downturn, which is affecting basically all of us. There are issues of energy security, how the energy resources in the East, in Russia in particular, and the energy demands in Western Europe could be reconciled, including the interests of transit countries as well.
There are certainly political issues as well. I can perhaps say that the position of Belarus in the wider European context has not been idealistic. There has been criticism of the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus. Yet at the same time there is a recognition of the fact that Belarus is really center located, in geopolitical terms. It is a country that will be certainly considered seriously in the regional European context. Therefore we are following with great interest the development of relations between Belarus and the European Union.
Perhaps the rapprochement with Belarus is a challenge to the European Union as well. The European Union usually has had an agenda of political and policy transformation in the countries it is working with. But the transformation agenda has national limits as well. We will hear from the high representative of Belarus how the changing of geopolitical and economic landscape in Europe can be reconciled, taking the interests of both sides into account, and what potential consequences that could carry on in our policies.
So, Your Excellency, Mr. Martynov, your are most welcome here. If I can just really briefly introduce you. You have been a career diplomat with increasing political responsibilities. You entered the foreign service in 1975. You have done many other things. You served as Ambassador of Belarus to the US in Washington, and also to the European Union in Belgium. So, you have considered the EU dimension as well.
So, against this background, taking in mind your extensive experience in foreign affairs and foreign policy, we all welcome you here to share your remarks.
Thank you very much for the invitation to come to the Institute and talk here before you. Thank you for your introductory statement. I was told that I am supposed to speak for about 20–25 minutes and then have a questions-and answers part, which is perfectly well. As far as I understand, the topic is Belarus and the European Union, that is to try to explain what is our position on issues and what is our approach to the relationship with the European Union. I will of course have to touch upon issues related to geography, security dimensions, transit, economy, and the like.
Probably, I’d start with geography. When I say so, I do not mean that I have to explain to this audience where in fact Belarus is. I remember I was once speaking to an audience in the United States, and all the time they were confusing Belarus with Belize. I had a little problem to explain the difference.
So, I had not that in mind when I mentioned “geography”. What I had in mind is that the geographic location we have means these days a location between two huge power centers, two giants: the European Union, on the one side, and Russia, on the other side. For a country of our size – we are not a small state, by the European standards, we rank 13th or 14th by territory and population — anyway, for a country of this size it is a tough task to survive between two giants. It is no small task living between two giants. And we want to live decently. Therefore, it is even a more stringent task.
Given where we are, this is a mixed situation, as we see it. Historically, our geographic location always was a curse for us. Because in any major conflict in Europe Belarus was involved and devastated. Moreover, it was involved twice in any conflict: on the way in one direction and then in the opposite direction. We were devastated each time twice.
So, historically this has been a curse. To give you a feeling of that, we are now about ten million people in the country. We had the same population before the Second World War. I hope you get it. We lost one third of our population in WWII – resisting the Nazis, fighting them. So, only now we are more or less back to what we had before WWII, and then Chernobyl happened. Not so much the actual loss of life, as the loss of children – unborn children, so to say, because parents were hesitant to have children, and continue to be hesitant even now, more than 20 years since that happened. And the loss of the national welfare, infrastructure, etc.
On the other hand, this geographic location can be and should be probably, a blessing. Because we are in the middle of things here. The task of foreign policy of Belarus is to try to convert this curse into a blessing. That is also a formidable task for us.
That brings us to a simple conclusion, simple in our view, that being where we are, located where we are – and of course we cannot just pack suitcases and leave elsewhere where we would like it more, to Belize, for example – we have to have good, preferably excellent relationship on both sides – with the European Union and with Russia.
Quite often, we are asked the question: Whom are you with? Are you going to be with the European Union or with Russia?
We strongly believe this is a false question and this is a false choice. We are not going to make this choice. We do not have this dilemma. We want to be on good terms, on excellent terms with Russia and with the European Union. When we started working on this rapprochement with the European Union, this was one of the very first elements, on which we had an explicit agreement and understanding with the leadership of the European Union: we are not going to make a choice in anybody’s favour.
What the Director mentioned was the “reorientation” of our foreign policy. I would not quite agree with him, because for us it was no so much a reorientation. We are not changing colours. We are not changing flags. We continue to see Russia as our major ally, our major market, a historical friend, a very close relative. It is more, rather, remedying the deficiencies of the past, where unfortunately our relationship with the European Union was not a good one. We just have to put things back in place. So, in my view, it is not a “reorientation”, but rather bringing things back home.
It is, in our view, a simple conclusion, the one I mentioned that we do not have to make this choice. But life is a complicated thing. Not everybody comes to the same conclusion. Certain quarters in different places think that we must make this choice. We have to make a lot of convincing job to make sure that this view does not become a dominating view, be it on this side, or that side, or both. So: a simple conclusion which is a simple one, for us and logically a simple one in real life terms is not always a very simple. Again, living between two giants is not a small task for anybody.
This is one element you have to understand, when you look at Belarus’ foreign policy and Belarus as a country. Another element, which is very important to understand is the type of economy we have. We are a manufacturing economy. We are an export-oriented economy. We export about 70 percent of our GNP, which is a lot. And we are an economy which basically has not any raw material and energy resources. So, to keep the economy running, we have to import almost everything to the country – raw materials, metal, whatever, and all basic energy we need to process. We put it together with our skills. We produce goods. And then – we have to export and market them.
So, we have to
a) secure raw materials and energy resources for the country, and
b) we have to secure markets for our country, which in many ways is a new task for us, because when in the former Soviet Union, we were as they called us “an assembly plant” of the former Soviet Union. We did not have this trouble then. Raw materials and energy came from somewhere, somehow. Nobody cared. And we did not have to care about where to sell our goods, somebody cared for that. Our job was just to put things together. Things have changed, and we have to survive in a totally different environment.
So, in working with our neighbours, with other countries, we have to think about these two tasks. When we think about out relationship with Russia and the European Union, we have to understand that our energy needs cannot be satisfied by supplies from the European Union. We have one obvious and the most important source of that, which is Russia.
Markets is a different thing. We have already worked for that in a fairly successful way. I will mention a couple of figures. In the beginning of the 1990s, when we had to reorient everything, as I said, Russia accounted for about 85 percent of our foreign trade and exports. In the year 2008, our export partner #1 was the European Union, which accounted for 44 percent of our exports. Russia accounted for 32 percent of our exports. So, 85 and 32, and the European Union market, which is a very competitive one. Of course, taking overall trade – exports and imports together, then we have Russia as our major trade partner, because our imports from Russia are huge, primarily because of the energy, raw materials.
We were fairly successful, and we are proud of that, in handling the tasks in our economy. What I have to mention is the following. We were the first country in the post-Soviet area to come back to the top GNP level, which we had in the Soviet Union time in 1990. We were the first one to get back to that. We are the first one to basically double our GNP as compared to the highest Soviet level. We believe we are still the only one who did it. Keep in mind, we do not have gas, we do not have oil, we do not have diamonds, we do not have gold. We have just our minds and our hands, this is it. So, we had to work hard for that. Sometimes we had to work in fairly non-classical ways. IMF was not always happy with what we did in our economy. But eventually, we believe, we were right, because we delivered. We delivered for our nation, for our population. We delivered for our neighbours, because we a country which is stable, economically and socially stable, and does not create – God forbid, I am not speaking about military conflicts – but also other kinds of troubles.
Several words more about the economy we have. We are particularly strong in heavy machine-building, in petrochemicals, in several areas in hi-tech – from information, IT-technologies to communication, lasers, composite materials and related matters. I would like to give you a feeling of that. Probably, many of you know about “Belarus” tractors, which has been a stable product of Belarus for many-many years. I just had a meeting with the Minister of Economy of Finland who recalled that he visited Minsk last time in 1976, 1/3 of a century ago. And he visited at that time the Minsk Tractor Plant. So he wondered whether the plant was still there. I told him that the plant is still there, and now we account for about 8 percent of the world output of tractors, 8 percent of the global output. Back in 1970s, we had three basic models of tractors. We now have about 70 models, which we export everywhere. We also account for 1/3 of the world output of huge dump trucks called “BelAZ” with the lifting capacity from 30 tons to 400 tons. Our major competitors in this area would be Caterpillar (the United States) and Komatsu (Japan). We have 1/3 of the world market.
In many areas of IT, semi-conductors we also have very important positions in the framework of the European continent and South-East Asia market. Also in high-tech areas we are quite important, especially in optics, lasers, in the area of management of big systems, so to say, including fire power management systems.
I mention this not just to boast of Belarus’ record, but indicate that what we produce is things that are hard to sell. It is easy to sell crude oil, no problem. But to sell microchips, heavy equipment is difficult. So, since we are doing that, and we were doing it fairly successfully until the crisis hit, we have the pride with what we do. We would like to continue with that, we would not like to leave the Russian market, because it is an extremely important market for us, as I said. We would like to be ever more present in the European market.
And not only so. We believe if we have what we call a “multi-vectoral” foreign policy, if we have a good solid leg in Russia and a good solid leg in the European Union, it is not enough. We still need a “third leg” if I may say so, in what you might call “third countries”, other markets. This is especially so, as we are taught by the crisis, when the Russian market fell, when the European market is in bad shape. We still, thanks God, are doing fairly well in the Chinese market, in the Venezuela market, in the African market. For that we also worked in an intensive and systemic way in recent years.
What we did in our economy and with our economy allowed us to come to the point where we felt that it is important now to
a) liberalize the rules of the game in the economy and
b) to open it up in a serious way for foreign presence.
We were hesitant to do that before, because we basically had to get back from the ruins, and we were in ruins at the beginning of the 1990s. Now that we are confident in our economy, we are doing both. In terms of economic liberalization, the process is still going on. We are in our second year of a very intensive effort of doing that. If two years ago we were ranked by the World Bank #125 in the world in terms of conditions of doing business, the latest report of the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business-2010” put Belarus in the 58th position. So, we went up in two years by almost 60 positions, almost half way. And we are not going to stop there. We put before ourselves a very ambitious goal to get within the top 30, and we will work hard to get it. It is recognized by important international institutions.
We are also, as I said, opening up the economy for foreign investment. We are now welcoming foreign investment from our Russian partners, from the United States, from the European Union. We discussed it today with the colleagues from the Finnish government. We are doing it in a fairly successful manner. According to the data of UNCTAD, Belarus ranks, unfortunately not the first or the second, but still fifth in the area of CIS and South Eastern Europe, where of course the European Union is always very well present. In terms of investment, absolute volume of investment, we are still # 5 after Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Serbia, which is good.
We are working also with the European Union to have better economic conditions in our cooperation. As I said, the European Union is very important for us in terms of our exports. But we are not quite happy with what we have there so far. We have a very dubious privilege of being in the same boat with the United States and Japan in the EU foreign trade regime. We just have the most favoured nation regime, this is it. The United States has it, Belarus has it, Japan has it, Australia has it. Russia has the so called GSP – General System of Preferences. All our neighbours have this. Countries which have association agreements have other privileges, etc. We do not have any privileges at all. It could be a matter of pride. But we would rather prefer to have some privileges.
We are also the only country against which the European Union applies export quotas for textiles. We are the only country in the world against which the European Union applies textile export quotas, which to me is not quite understandable. Because we are not China, we are not Pakistan, the major producers of textiles. So, the reasoning is somewhere beyond economic factors. But we are working also to try to get through that. We will talk a little later about Eastern Partnership.
Another aspect which I want you to understand fully is the transit aspect of our geographic location. We are an important transit country. And being basically devoid of other natural resources we do believe that this geographic location is a natural resource. Belarus transports through its territory and through the existing system of pipelines about 30 % of Russian gas which is going to Europe and about 50 % of the Russian oil flowing to Europe.
On the one hand, of course, gas and oil are coming from Russia. It is not a particular contribution of ours. But at the same time if you would look attentively at the situation, then Belarus makes a very important contribution:
a) we are providing a very safe transit and
b) we are providing a very reliable transit.
Everybody remembers the situation, which happened, unfortunately, last year between Russia and Ukraine with the gas transit to Europe. At the time of this gas crisis Belarus increased gas traffic to Europe. We had both political will to do that and we had a technical capacity to do that. There was a lot of talk, for example, about modernization of Ukrainian pipelines, etc., because they are not in a nice condition.
But we were in a position to pump even more, and substantially more, at the time of crisis to our western neighbors, because we invested a lot in the pipelines we have, in keeping them in good shape and upgrading them.
Being a reliable transit partner, in our view, means a lot. And we attach importance to that, we work for that, and we invest in that a lot.
Speaking about transit, I should also mention that Belarus hauls about 100 million tons of cargo annually between Europe and Far East or Russia, which is important. We would like to be even more important in this respect, and we’re working now with our neighbors to come up with important logistic structure and infrastructure to be even more competitive in this area and to attract even more traffic of goods between the East and the West.
Now, the topic of security was mentioned, which is an important one in several dimensions. If we talk about military security, then we believe that Belarus is also a very reliable partner to both Russia and the European Union. With Russia, of course, we are in close military and military-technical cooperation, we are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
As for our relationship with the West, we believe that we are making also a very important contribution. First of all, in the beginning of the 1990s, Belarus was among the nuclear heirs of the Soviet Union together with Ukraine and Kazakhstan. And we were the first one among the nuclear heirs to basically renounce the nuclear option. When I say renounce the nuclear option, it was not a theoretical option. We had very important nuclear missiles stationed in Belarus. And, legally speaking, they were ours. But we took a conscious decision that we don’t need that. And we handed them to Russia, where they say they are now. And we did it as the first country among nuclear heirs, and we were the only country that did it without any preconditions at all. So, the contribution of our country to the nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation regime is very important.
We also made a very important contribution in terms of conventional armaments, control and disarmament. According to the obligations we undertook under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, we had to eliminate much more armaments than the United States, France and many other countries. Also keep in mind, when we asked for external assistance for that – because cutting arms takes money – nobody came to help. So, we had to do it in the beginning of the 1990s at our own cost in a very difficult situation. But we did it – because we respect our international obligations.
We believe that we are a net supplier of security in our region in terms that we don’t have territorial disputes. This did not come by chance either, because historically we had a very convoluted configuration of frontiers and borders in our region. One of the first decisions of independent Belarus was the decision not to follow any territorial claims.
We have also a society, which doesn’t have ethnic problems inside, religious problems – we are a multi-religious society. So, we are a stable neighbour. As far as we understand, the goal of the European Union is to have stable and prosperous neighbours. We are a fairly stable country. Let me also mention that recently the Economic Intelligence Unit, which you probably follow, made a list of countries according to stability. Belarus is ranking far higher than many-many respected members of international club, so to say, in this respect in Europe, and globally also.
Now, in terms of the Eastern Partnership. As you know, since last May we are a part of the Eastern Partnership. We believe that the Eastern Partnership is something which has mutual benefits for everybody involved in – the European Union and partner countries. It’s not a gift to Belarus, or Ukraine, or Moldova. Therefore, we have to work together to make it meaningful. And we believe that the Eastern Partnership has to be a project-oriented programme, and the projects have to have a regional dimension. Belarus is working with all its neighbours on specific projects, which we are going to present in the Eastern Partnership together with them. We also work with Russia to involve Russia in projects in the Eastern Partnership, because so far Russia does not believe that Eastern Partnership is a good “tool”, so to say. Our insistence from the outset was that it has to be open to other countries, third countries, Russia, in particular and above all, and we made sure to the extent possible in our humble role in preparing the draft documents that project activities are also open to countries like Russia and Turkey.
Director: Thank you so much for your remarks. I think we understand many of the issues much better. Certainly, Belarus and Finland are very different countries. But Finland has also lived between competing centers of power. Also Belarus tractors have been in the Finnish agriculture, and I have to admit that in our farm we have a labour tractor from the 1970s. Belarus of course is a manufacturing country like Finland.
Q: There is a pipeline called NordStream to be constructed. Can you say if there is any alternative to that?
A: When one of the pipelines going through Belarus was built, and it was actually done in the 1990s – this is the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, then at that time those who did it, and that was Gasprom and Belarus, were wise and far-sighted enough to create infrastructure, including the pump stations, everything, for two strings of pipes. But just one was put at that time. So, to increase the traffic of gas to Europe, the easiest and the cheapest way is to put just the second string of pipes on the already existing infrastructure, which was specifically envisaged for that. This would be done very quickly, it could take from 18 to 24 months to do the first part of it, which will immediately provide additional capacity of 23 billion cubic meters of gas traffic to Europe. It will cost about 2 billion dollars, which is at least three times cheaper than the NordStream. You can take another year or two and add the second part of lines to the existing pipelines, and you will have more than 60 billion cubic meters of gas additionally. Which is more than the NordStream.
But, of course, the gas belongs to our Russian friends, and the decision is theirs – and yours, and Germany’s, and Sweden’s. But the cheapest, easiest and most effective way is the second string of the Yamal-Europe. We asked our Russian friends to consider that. We asked the European Commission to consider that too.
Q: While we are discussing the process of moving forward the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union and improving the relations altogether, how do you foresee the ultimate goal of Belarus in this process? Would you envisage the Belarusian application for the EU membership, or at least the negotiations on the associate membership that the Eastern Partnership provides?
While we are talking about the dialogue, do you see any role for the Belarusian political opposition in promoting the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union?
A: Well, on the first question. Belarus in not vying for a membership in the European Council. We are not a candidate for the European Council. We are not even a candidate to be a candidate. So, this places us in our own category. We want to have, as I said, an excellent relationship. We are members or party of the European Partnership. But we are not a candidate.
Of course, I can speak only for my lifetime – and I’m 56. Then, in the foreseeable future we do not expect to apply. Although Belarus is located in the middle of the European continent. I am speaking for my lifetime.
As to the second issue. Of course, we are handling the dialogue with the European Union on our own. We do not need ‘brokers’ for support, technically speaking. Politically speaking, there is a very interesting situation, because a large part, a predominant part of our opposition historically viewed the Government, viewed the President as taking a wrong path: they said should orient ourselves to Europe and we should work with Europe.
Now that the Government is working with Europe, we are actually, in a way, fulfilling a social demand of the opposition. But they are not happy about that.
Q: I am a member of the Finnish Parliament and also a Council of Europe rapporteur for Belarus. I know you have taken very many steps on human rights questions. So, what about death penalty issue, this is a question we always ask.
Also, we have an info point of the Council of Europe in Belarus…
A: First of all, congratulations on this recent victory to be elected to this position of a Rapporteur. We are looking forward to working with you. Now, on death penalty issue. We took this issue to the national referendum, as you probably know, others may not know that, back in 1995. The question was simple: whether to keep it or not. More than 80 percent of the population voted in favour of keeping the death penalty in place. So, to change the situation, to reverse the situation, we need a public referendum. One can easily assume that if we put this question to the referendum today or tomorrow, the outcome will be the same, I mean the public support for that.
But that does not mean that we do not approach this issue. This does not mean that we are not working on this issue. We have changed in a very important way our criminal law. The number of articles in our Criminal Code, which could entail death penalty, was cut more than twice, by two times. There are very few articles which, basically, can envisage a death penalty. None of these articles foresees death penalty as the only punishment. It always has an alternative. We have introduced life imprisonment, which is also not a holiday, of course. But we have introduced it specifically as an alternative to death penalty for serious crimes. We have excluded total categories of the population from death penalty, totally. If you put them together, it would be maybe two thirds of the population. No person aged younger than 18 can be executed. No person older than 65 can be executed. No women can be executed, whatever they do. So, it is just, unfortunately, for males from 18 to 65. It is probably less than one third of the population. So, two thirds are out of this issue.
We are working on public consciousness, and the approaches of judges. 10 years ago, we were a “special guest” in the Council of Europe. We are not now. 10 years ago, about 50 persons were executed in Belarus annually. Now, in recent years, it is one or two persons annually. I understand that two persons are two too many. One person is too many. But the change is drastic, in real life, in application of that.
We started to work recently to make public think more about this subject. We had a large article by your predecessor Mr. Rigoni published in one of the major newspapers. We had a discussion in the Belarusian Parliament several times, also by the end of June last time. In July, if I recall well, we had a live TV-show, a talk show, where the issue was discussed, with opponents and proponents of that, and public voting electronically, not just the audience, but people around the country were voting electronically, and the vote was not a good one for canceling the death penalty, by the way. Now the Parliament is considering creation of a working group to work on this issue, and that was specifically mentioned by the Chairman of the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, in his speech at the opening of the new session of the Parliament a couple of weeks ago.
Going to your second question. The info point of the Council of Europe has started the information and public campaign on that issue in Belarus. So, the info point is there. It has been formally opened. I opened it in a ceremony with the Chairman of the Council of Europe, Foreign Minister of Slovenia recently. So, it is up and running.
Q: You put an emphasis on the economic structure of Belarus in a wider European context. There are two issues that got in my mind, which we have been reflecting in Finland as well. One is the importance of manufacturing for the economy of the country. Finland happens to be the fourth most industrialized country in the European Union in terms of the share of investment in GDP. We also happen to be very export dependent – 45 percent of GDP. Because of the economic crisis, the export dependence turned out to be a problem. Many experts say that the trend of the future is de-industrialization. The export dependency might continue. But it is going to be more and more dependent on external factors. So, do you think your manufacturing, your export dependence will survive in the future?
A: Of course, export dependency is painful at the time of the crisis — your customers do not pay. We believe that getting rid of the manufacturing capacity is not the right path. Of course, certain structural, long-term changes are necessary. We are working to have that. In our particular case, what happens in Belarus. I mentioned to you that our primary areas of production are heavy machine-building and petrochemicals. To produce a BelAZ, a huge truck with 300 tons lifting capacity, we import tons and tons and tons of metal from other countries – Ukraine and Russia. We import huge amounts of electricity, and, of course, we pay for that. We put them together, produce this huge monster, and then we are supposed to sell it, if we are lucky enough. When we sell it, we have a profit. But it is not a huge one, because this is a very competitive market.
So, we pose ourselves a question: whether it makes sense to import all this stuff and have all this small profit. Our approach is that we should not create a kind of a lockout, close the gates of those factories. We believe we should arrange for our further economic growth through more new services and less raw material and energy consuming industries than we have now.
I will give you another example. A Belarus tractor weighs about probably two or three tons, and it costs about 20 thousand dollars. We also produce sights for tanks. A sight weighs 20 kg and costs 25 thousand dollars, which makes more sense, obviously.
So, this is where we would like to go. But this is a long-term process.
Q: (Ambassador of Lithuania): You mentioned about your participation in the Eastern Partnership. We are very interested in that. You mentioned you have some projects to propose. Do you have already in mind any particular project?
A: We not only have these projects, we also took them to our Lithuanian colleagues. We did it back in February, when the Eastern Partnership was not yet formally in place. Moreover, the Foreign Ministries of Lithuania and Belarus created special ambassadors-at-large to handle the coordination of these projects. So, there are projects we have, and I would like to emphasize we are doing that not only with Lithuania, but also with Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and, recently, with Estonia.
I will mention a couple a projects for you to have an idea about that. One large project is to have an international corridor 9B, which goes now from Klaipeda to Vilnius and then through Minsk to Kiev. We propose to extend it on both ends and to have Kaliningrad on the one end, and Odessa on the other end, which will make a link between the Baltic Sea area and the area of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. That, of course, would be of huge importance for both Lithuania and Latvia, Belarus, Russia, and it will give us a strategic link between the two basins, the two important seas. It has an added value, in our view, to involve Russia in this project.
We are also offering to have an electric interconnector grid between the former Soviet grid and the EU grid, which will allow us to exchange supplies of electricity. We are also proposing to work on railway infrastructure to improve it, to electrify it. We are also proposing projects on customs cooperation, in electronic declaration of goods to speed up transit between the EU, Belarus, and Russia. You see, projects of this kind are for everybody, not just for us.