Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov interview for The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Question: Mr. Foreign Minister, a decade and a half ago, your country wanted as little to do with the West as possible. For the last few months, however, it has been trying to move closer to Europe.
Answer: Since its expansion eastward, the European Union has become our most important neighbour, alongside Russia. We share a 1,000 kilometre border with it. We are an aspiring industrial nation and the EU has already become our second most important trading partner. We are also a transit country between Europe and Asia and we place a great deal of attention on ensuring that illegal immigrants and drug dealers reach neither us nor the EU. Both sides are thus increasingly dependent on the partnership.
Question: For President Lukashenko, the managers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)were once “crooks”, now he wants the IMF to lend his country 2.5 billion dollars. Is Belarus bankrupt?
Answer: My country is not bankrupt. During the 1990s, the IMF imposed conditions which were unable to accept. The IMF is no longer using these methods, and there are reasons for this: Our economy has grown strongly. The current economic crisis is, of course, also affecting us, although, in our case, financial speculation is not the cause of it. As an export nation, we now have clients who are unable to pay us. This is why we have obtained a loan, in order to safeguard ourselves with a financial “airbag”.
Question: Russia has already helped by providing a billion dollars and a second billion has been requested. What political conditions does Moscow impose?
Answer: None. Russia is interested in the continuation of our close economic relationships. Our joint trade volume amounts to 35 billion dollars annually, larger than that of the Ukraine or Kazakhstan – and there are only 10 million people in Belarus. We are one of the leading countries in tractor production worldwide. Six percent of the tractors in the world are made by us. And 30 percent of the high performance trucks on the world market were built in Belarus, as well. The largest contingent of the components for this technology was purchased in Russia. Russia would feel it if we experienced economic problems. The Belarusian-Russian union is very successful and has a great future. This is why Russia is loaning us money without political conditions.
Question: Russia wants Belarus to acknowledge the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Why are you hesitating?
Answer: The conflict between Georgia and Russia in August had deep roots. Six countries which used to belong to the former Soviet Union and which belong to the Collective Security Organisation (CSO), including Belarus, condemned Georgia’s actions. We all expressed our understanding for Russia’s actions. We are now looking very carefully at the development in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The situation is complex, which is why we have not yet decided whether or not we will accept the republics.
Question: But it is clear to you that the EU will only fully lift the sanctions against Belarus if it recognises the national integrity of Georgia?
Answer: I have not heard anything about such a condition. We are, of course, discussing the recognition. But none of our business partners in the EU has ever officially mentioned this preliminary condition to us.
Question: What else does Belarus have to do to cause the EU sanctions to be lifted?
Answer: We do not find the lifting of the sanctions to be a charity. They will have to be lifted if both sides would like to work together more closely economically. Both sides have an interest in this. The EU has a certain framework of expectations for us to fulfil: election reform and human rights are amongst these. We do not need any velvet revolution, orange revolution, or revolution of any other name. We are a country in an evolutionary transition. This transition, however, is not being forced by the EU or the USA or anyone else. It is the reaction of our government to what our society needs. Our country needed a strong government during the 1990s. Otherwise, we would have plunged into chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our society is now ripe for a new age.
Question: In August, President Lukashenko released the last eight political prisoners.
Answer: They were not political prisoners, even if they may have had other political attitudes. The EU saw their release as appropriate; we are prepared to help our friends and thus did so. It was a gesture of friendship.
Question: A few days ago, two of these groups were again arrested. The Belarusian opposition is saying that your government is thus “spitting in Europe’s face”. Why are you doing that?
Answer: It is not very clever to say something like that. We are not stupid. We would not arrest people without reason, especially not if this would worsen our relationship with the EU. Both of these persons were legally indicted, because the policesuspected them of criminal activities. There were no political reasons.
Question: President Lukashenko is seen as the “last dictator in Europe”. Is he that?
Answer: Germans would be wise not to adopt any nicknames that have been made by others in the world. Our very special friend Condoleezza Rice coined this phrase. It is wholly false! Yes, the President has a great deal of strength in Belarus; it is awarded to him by the constitution. But in order to overcome the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting disruption, it was urgently necessary. This is why we are an economically strong country today. Our President is a very strong personality. But he is not a dictator, not in any way.
Question: When will we see him in Brussels to conclude trade agreements for Belarus with the EU?
Answer: It is not a matter of visits. We do not want any political kissy kissy with the EU, no pats on the back, hugs and pecks on the cheek in front of the cameras. We are a serious and pragmatic nation. Therefore, we want serious and pragmatic economic relationships at eye level. The key to this is: No discrimination against Belarus!
Question: Could Belarus ever be a member of the EU or even NATO?
Answer: That certainly is not part of our scenario for the foreseeable future. But times can change.