Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The plenipotentiary ambassador of the Russian Federation in Belarus Mikhail Babich in an exclusive interview with RT spoke about cooperation between Moscow and Minsk in the military, energy, trade, and social spheres. He paid separate attention to the topics of strengthening and developing the institutions of the Union State, which in 2019 celebrates its 20th anniversary. Also, Mikhail Babich noted the attempts of the West to influence the internal political situation in Belarus and relations between our countries.
Mikhail Viktorovich, in September you started the execution of your duties. How were you accepted in Belarus? What were your initial impressions of the country after the first months of work?
“I was received very well. Indeed, fraternally. I have many thanks for my colleagues for this. If we talk about working aspects, it was succeeded to systematise all our problematic issues in the sphere of socio-economic cooperation — in industry, agro-industrial, economy, and finance spheres, in the sphere of restrictive barriers, and so on. We paid special attention to the provisions of the Union Treaty. There is an understanding on each position about how it is possible to move forward.
We have significantly increased the number of agreements with officials from the authorities of Belarus, public figures, representatives of civil society, and the professional sphere. I study traditions, history, culture, sights, and monuments with pleasure.”
One of topics that is talked about a lot is the recent statement of Aleksandr Lukashenko to Moscow about the possible loss of an ally in the West should Russia refuse to compensate Minsk for the tax manoeuvre in the oil industry. The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Maria Zakharova noted that the policy of expanding strategic cooperation with Minsk isn’t subject to doubt. How is this situation covered in Belarus?
“Maria Zakharova is absolutely right. Of course, the policy of developing a strategic partnership and our strategic relations remains unchanged. We are creating the conditions to expand and strengthen them, and have a real economic basis. A political union is already being built on this. Concerning the statement that you mentioned, I am not a supporter of commenting on statements that I didn’t hear. No Russians were at this meeting. Most likely, it is a phrase taken out of context or emotion. At all the meetings and negotiations that I was present at, Aleksandr Grigoryevich always clearly stated his position and adhered to it: that Russia and Belarus are participants of the Union State. Minsk intends to continue to do everything to strengthen it.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko also stated that in 2019-2020 the sovereignty and independence of Belarus will be tested. Is there a chance that the West will try to deploy the Ukrainian or Venezuelan scenario in Belarus?
“If they could they would’ve deployed it long ago. The main obstacle in front of the implementation of these western scenarios is the position of the people and president of Belarus. For 25 years they have proved – via concrete deeds, acts, and results of work – that the course on integration with Russia and on expanding our cooperation in economic, humanitarian, and linguistic spheres is a strategic course of Minsk.
Of course, attempts will be made to test this, and the president of Belarus is certainly right in this regard. But today the political leadership of this country very distinctly realises the risks and makes the necessary efforts in this regard.”
Is the West putting pressure on Belarus? What policy is being pursued by the US and the EU concerning Minsk?
“It even not pressure, but well planned, organised, systematic, and long-term work. Tens, hundreds of millions of dollars and euros through various NGOs in education, culture, and humanitarian projects are allocated for it. A lot of ideological work and conditioning of people, especially the younger generation, is being carried out. Work is being done to distort completely obvious facts of history that aren’t subject to doubt. A lot of work is being carried out in the sphere of interfaith relations. The most advanced information technologies are being used. These opportunities are very great for those western centers that are engaged in this work. We all see the results in the example of Georgia and Ukraine.
This work aims to sever centuries-old ties between our people, firstly sowing mistrust, then inciting hostility, in order to tear this territory away from Russia — in the humanitarian, ideological, and economic spheres. It aims to further use this territory as a springboard for putting pressure on Russia.”
Is it possible that Belarus will one day opt for European integration?
“I won’t simulate circumstances. The position of Russia in this regard has been repeatedly stated first of all by the president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. It is that a course on its further development, how the state will be, how it will develop, and what policy will be pursued in relation to neighbours and partners is exclusively determined by the Belarusian people. How the people decide on things is how things will be. There should be no pressure and opposition. Regardless of how political events develop, we shouldn’t allow the deterioration or considerable weakening of ties between our peoples at all.”
Is there now demand in society for unbiased and high-quality coverage of integration within the framework of the Union State and the creation of all-union media and TV channels? Why hasn’t such an approach been implemented yet?
“First of all, it has been implemented partially. There is print and electronic media belonging to the Union State. We need to cardinally change the attitude towards information policy in Russian-Belarusian relations. It has to aim to create, develop, and build. The information resources that Russia and Belarus have today are more than enough to implement an effective information policy, to explain and show to people the results of building the Union State. In addition, creating new media resources, allied media – whether it be television or printed media – makes sense only if they complement and expand the possibilities of national media resources in respect of the creation and formation of a positive agenda.”
In Minsk the opposition party “Belarusian Popular Front” demanded from the authorities to restrict the broadcasting of Russian TV channels. Will the opposition succeed in kindling anti-Russian sentiments?
“If we don’t reboot the information agenda very quickly and create a new positive and constructive information policy, then of course the opposition’s chances increase. We ourselves give them these opportunities. The more we devote our strength and attention to creating a new information policy that will be honest, objective, professional, and aimed at development and creation, the less chance the opposition will have, including in the restriction of Russian television’s possibilities. It is necessary to pay tribute to the Belarusian authorities — today these possibilities are very large. As a matter of fact, Russian television in this or that format is available to the absolute majority of the population of the country. But we need to change the information agenda in this segment, to think more about strategic and conceptual things rather than the current cooked up facts, which are often distorted, taken out of context, and have nothing in common with reality.”
In recent years statements and articles about the “soft Belarusification” that is carried out with the green light from Minsk are periodically seen in the Russian media. Last year nationalists held a so-called Day of Freedom. Can an increased amount of focus on the national culture, language, and elements of the Belarusian identity threaten Russian-speaking people, Russian language, and Russian culture in Belarus?
“There is very thin line between ‘soft Belarusification’ and de-Russification. Studying the native language, history, culture, and traditions is not even the right, but the duty of any people who do not want to lose their own identity. It would be strange to somehow restrict these opportunities in an independent state.
There is nothing bad about the fact that Belarus now develops in this regard. But it shouldn’t happen at the expense of infringing on the rights of the Russian language, common culture, common historic facts, and also the falsification of history. Today it is very important to find a balance.”
What do you think about the current level of Russian-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere?
“It is very high in every respect — from the regulatory framework to the grouping of troops and forces that was created and functions. Dozens of different exercises, personnel and HQ manoeuvres, and mobilisation training are carried out every year. This year the largest exercise ‘Union Shield’ will take place. There is an exchange of military personnel from the point of view of receiving military education and other aspects of increasing the level of cooperation. This is a high level of relations and the readiness to repel any level of aggression. Everyone in Russia and Belarus should be absolutely assured by the fact that the interests of our countries and peoples will be reliably defended by all the capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces and our joint regional grouping.
We are developing joint military-technical cooperation very actively. A large number of Belarusian and Russian enterprises are mutually involved in questions of state defence orders and the production of arms and military equipment. Joint scientific development in this area is being carried out. The level of cooperation and partnership, as well as allied interaction, is indeed unprecedented.”
Recently Russia and Belarus have disputed the cost of energy. Will there be a compromise on this issue and when will it be reached?
“On the one hand, this dispute exists. But if you look at the dynamics of our relations over the last 20 years, it arose nearly every year, and a compromise was always reached. We found solutions to the most difficult questions in much more difficult economic conditions. The question consists not in solving some concrete economic dispute. Taking into account the need to additionally fine-tune the union format of our relations and create a single industrial-economic policy, it is necessary to look at what needs to be done so that tax compensations can take place within the framework of a single tax law – if we speak about some budgetary preferences and want them to take place within the framework of a single budgetary process.
Now we are at the stage of forming single markets for gas, oil, petroleum products, and electricity in the Eurasian space. Taking the issue of bilateral relations out of context and solving it at the expense or to the detriment of Eurasian ties without having balanced these problems is incorrect and contradicts the reached agreements.”
This situation will clear up when gas goes along “Nord Stream — 2”.
“That’s not the point. When gas goes along ‘Nord Stream-2’, there will all the same be a significant amount of questions, because our allied relations are very preferential. When we build them on this basis, all our other partners also want a similar format of relations. Especially within the framework of the Eurasian union.”
The Union State of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus has existed for nearly 20 years. What result do we have on this anniversary?
“In 20 years a lot of things were done. A chain of command was formed – the Supreme State Council, the Council of Ministers, the High Level Group – which makes all the necessary decisions in the economic and political spheres: in defence, security, and so on. Commodity turnover grows year after year. We just ended 2018. We again grew – by almost 10% when compared to 2017. I.e., $35,700,000,000 is the preliminary estimate of our mutual commodity turnover.
More than 8,000 enterprises are involved in a system of mutual cooperation. In the fuel-energy complex sphere integration reaches nearly 90%, and in mechanical engineering it is about 80%. A lot of things were done in the social sphere. Such things don’t exist and, most likely, won’t exist with any other country.
Today a new stage of the development of our relations arrives. We are discussing questions related to updating our Union Treaty. The implementation of its provisions, as well as the creation of the corresponding bodies of management that will be responsible for the supranational level of management and the legal personality of the Union State will allow to integrate our economies even more deeply and, most importantly, raise our economic opportunities.”
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