TRANSCRIPT: AP Interview with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
This is an English-language transcript of an interview between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ian Phillips, AP Vice President, International News.
President Lukashenko, there are many topics I would like to discuss today but I would like to begin by asking you about the significance of yesterday’s military drills inside Belarus. What was the meaning and does this perhaps signal a wider, more direct participation of Belarus in the Ukraine war?
Answer: Let me answer the second part of the question directly: no. We do not intend to take part in Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine because there is no need at all. Anything we can or could offer to the Russian Federation, they have already. So, there’s absolutely no need to take part in that special military operation. As for our armed forces, I don’t know why you highlighted that aspect – maybe because it was our armed forces’ last activity. But since our joint drills with the Russian Federation – you remember those – since last year, conducting those wasn’t accidental, and it wasn’t connected to the special military operation as much as it was to you armed forces’ activity, the NATO bloc, especially in Poland and the Baltics as well as aggravation of the situation around Belarus. Lately, that situation has been aggravated even more fiercely, I would say. And naturally, the armed forces are bound to react, I’ll be direct with you. That’s why even before the NATO bloc commenced with the drills in Poland and the Baltics, we knew about it. We haven’t been informed in a civilized way, but we have enough capabilities to find out on our own, and we found out about your drills close to our borders. We saw the US, Great Britain and the rest of NATO countries moving troops towards our borders. A few years ago, they were numbered at 3,000, now it’s 32,000. You see the growth? And so, we must react. And we do. We react not only with the latest activities of our armed forces you just mentioned we have to take into account what is happening in Ukraine. therefore, we hold even more events on an ongoing basis in the south of our Belarus in order to cover our southern border from various misunderstandings. I think that we will be able to avoid any misunderstandings not only in the south but also in the west of Belarus. So, it shouldn’t bother anyone. We hold all the events on our territory, we do not threaten anyone, and we are not going to threaten and will not do it. Moreover, we can’t threaten -- we know who opposes us, so to unleash some kind of a conflict, some kind of war here in the West is absolutely not in the interests of the Belarusian state. So, the West can sleep peacefully.
Question: And yet you are, at least internationally, intrinsically associated with this war. You allowed the Russians to invade Ukraine from your territory. Do you regret in any way that decision, given what you are seeing inside Ukraine?
Answer: I am very sorry about what is happening in Ukraine. but this question is not for me, it is a question for the leadership of Ukraine and, above all, to the president. In the West, it has not been customary lately to even talk about what preceded the special military operation of the Russian Federation of the armed forces of Russia. Well, try to remember. I don’t understand why Ukrainians needed to provoke Russia. After all, relations were developing normally, they were going to the point that it was possible to agree on all issues. I say it as a person in the know. I’ve been in the process all the time. I’m more well-versed the subject than anyone else, and I saw that it was possible to agree, but starting from personal insults to the Russian leadership to various economic provocations of pressure and mockery of Russian people in Ukraine. I’m talking about an infringement of the Russian language and people in eastern Ukraine being pressured, I saw it all. I just don’t understand why Ukraine needed this. Thus, Ukraine provoked the Russian Federation. I will not list all the factors and facts known to the entire world community. Well, they got what they asked for. Yes, today we can say that you and the Americans pushed them to take these actions. This is true from a geopolitical point of view. The Americans withdrew from Afghanistan. Many of the operatives involved there had to be deployed somewhere else. But that is the bare minimum. So, they decided to apply pressure on Ukraine. But the most important thing is the geopolitical aspect. We see it now: the United States want to take advantage of the moment, drag their allies into this, and drown Russia in the war in Ukraine. That’s their goal. We (US) need to deal with Russia and then with China. Excuse me, Mr. Phillips, but that’s how we understand the situation here. Maybe we’re wrong about something, but that’s what we understand and act accordingly. As for Belarusians, listen, there is nothing to reproach me for. Remember Minsk 1, Minsk 2, I did everything to ensure peace there. Ukraine, on the eve of our last election campaign, has trained a bunch of militants on its territory. Trained Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and, above all, Ukrainians. They trained those fighters there. They were sending weapons here along with the militants. Not a single person has been detained. They testified about where, who, and how, the particulars. And forget them if you want to tell me they are in prison, they are being pressured and so on. But there are a lot of facts when Ukrainians themselves, Ukrainians themselves, not ordinary people, told how they were preparing to fight in Belarus and who prepared them. it was SBU, the security service of Ukraine. Look at those known statements. Then even before the Americans and Europeans, they imposed economic sanctions against us. Why? They were actually the second country with which we traded. First place Russia, second Ukraine. We supplied a lot of goods there, they supplied us with a lot of goods. Up to $8 billion in turnover of commodities. They closed the sky for our planes. There were a lot of such facts before the conflict with Russia. The question is why. Why aggravate relations with Belarus and provoke Russia? They got what they asked for. So of course, this is bad, it’s bad for us that two neighboring countries are fighting and ones that is very close to us, very close to us. You know, I have my roots somewhere deep in Ukraine. In Ukraine, I remember this, I have always said and emphasized this. Russia is the fraternal, closest state to us. People living there are the same as Belarusians, they are no different from Belarusians. And generally, we are three peoples from the same root of the tree, we grow from the same root. That’s how we think, that’s our mentality. How can I not be worried? We do not accept war. It is unacceptable not only since the last war when we fought against fascism together with you, by the way. We lost every third resident. There is not a square meter of the territory of Belarus where people didn’t die. You also know that very well. How can we contribute to war? But you must understand that we are allies, the closest allies with the Russian Federation, we have the strongest military-political alliance. We didn’t hide it from anyone. Our armies are essentially one and the same, and we conducted large-scale exercises in the south at the end of last year, we didn’t hide that either. There were Americans present there, Europeans we were open, we invited everyone. And the fact that the Russian Federation used part of those troops for the military operation after the end of the drills – by the way, after the exercises, Russia began to withdraw troops from Belarus and it all began with a provocation. Again, with the provocations. The Ukrainians have built four Tochka-U missile launching sites targeted at Belarus. Lucky for us, there were still troops left there after the drills. And the Russians helped us trace and hit those four positions just 30 minutes before the start of the military operation. And part of the troops really left Belarus to the south to Ukraine. So, from the picture I just painted, should I have acted differently? I don’t think so. The latest events that are unfolding, that we are seeing, don’t allow you reproach me for anything. Because the United States of America and the West, instead of ending the war in Ukraine with dignity, are escalating the situation by supplying weapons instead and so on and so forth. Let me assure you that Russia, how should I put it, is taking it too easy fighting in Ukraine, this is just the beginning, and it has to be finished right at the beginning. No need to escalate the situation and no need to blame us for siding with Russia. And while there’s only one country openly siding with Russia on this – Belarus - on the other side, as many as 50 states have united helping Ukraine fight not only with weapons but also with manpower and mercenaries. What for? And the things I’m saying were not picked up from CNN, Reuters, or Russian channels. We can clearly see what is happening in Ukraine. So believe what I’m saying, and you know that very well yourself. So, we categorically do not accept any war. We have done and are doing everything now so that there isn’t a war. Thanks to yours truly, me that is, negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have begun. I know Russia’s position. I know what Russia is offering to Ukraine. But why is Ukraine, on whose territory a war in effect is ongoing, military action, people are dying, -- why is Ukraine not interested in these negotiations is another question. But the answer to that question can be found in Washington.
Question: Respectfully, the arguments you raise about why the war began are widely discredited outside Russia and Belarus. You say that you are seeing with your own eyes what is happening inside Ukraine, and so are we. The independent media are in various places from Mariupol to Bucha and all over. Isn’t that message you were just conveying, one that you should actually be conveying to the Russian president? You have a close relationship with him. And as a fellow Slavic nation, you yourself said how close these three nations are. Do you not feel a responsibility to say that the atrocities that we are all seeing that are happening and that cannot be disputed must stop?
Answer: Now yes, I want to say not only I promise to convey your words to the President of Russia and we will meet with him in the near future. I promise. But I want to direct the same words to you, to the West first of all. Stop lying, stop lying. You should not give the example of Bucha. You picked the wrong person to ask about it. What happened in Bucha, I don’t know how much you’re immersed this, I have no evidence of Reuters’ (SIC) involvement in it. Not just Reuters but the Associated Press as well. I can’t be blaming the Associated Press. But we know who organized this window dressing. We controlled the process of the British, mostly the British who were in cars. We saw four cars. We gave the Russians the plate numbers of cars that arrived from Lviv that were filming in Bucha and then dumped it into the informational space. Well, war is war, that’s how war goes. This is not surprising to me. I went through the 2020 and I know how it’s done. So there is no need to talk to me about Bucha. As far as Mariupol, listen, Antonio Gutteres, the UN Secretary General recently visited Ukraine and asked Putin a number of questions. Putin was open and agreed with Gutteres. He asked to open the corridors, to evacuate civilians and so on. Why don’t they evacuate? So, Mariupol is also not an appropriate example in the context of our reasoning. Everything is decided here and everything depends on the authorities of Ukraine. You know, Mr Phillips, we can reproach Russia as much as we like, but this is of little use. One must understand that the war is not on the territory of Russia. The war is on the territory of Ukraine. And the country’s leadership should be primarily interested in ensuring that civilians do not die. And we must do everything for this. I remember the events after 2015 in eastern Ukraine. Had the agreements reached here in this room in Minsk been implemented, had Ukraine abided by those agreements, then today Ukraine would exist within the borders of Soviet era. There would be no war, the third elections would have been held in Donetsk in Donbass. Excuse my frankness, Ukrainians would have conducted it the way they want to. Big issues need to be resolved calmly, step by step. Pyotr Poroshenko did not do this. I have been an intermediary between Putin and Poroshenko many times, and even between the current President Volodya Zelensky and Putin. I am a witness to how the agreements were implemented because I passed certain messages along to both. I would pass along what Putin said to Zelenskyy, and what Zelenskyy said back to Putin. But I see that Ukraine was not determined to solve the problem step by step, which led to the war. Therefore, if you are talking about some atrocities in Ukraine, address this primarily to the Poles, for example, the United States of America and Great Britain. if you are interested in the war in Ukraine ending - the United States and Great Britain - this can be done within a week or even earlier. But you’re not interested in it.
Question: This isn’t like some wars where the media are shut out and unable to be on the ground and bearing witness. We and other media are seeing with our own eyes, we are talking to survivors and there is no doubt about what has happened. I think it’s very important that misinformation stops and the facts be recognised. It’s very hard for the world to listen to theories that mass rape, killings of women and children and men and mass graves is either not happening, has been stage managed or a conspiracy theory that other nations have done it. Why do you insist on this claim that what we are all seeing with our own eyes and what the world is seeing isn’t actually happening is as we believe it to be happening?
Answer: It’s not my business to provide any additional evidence about it. But once again, we know very well what was going on in Bucha. We know this particular example very well. Believe me, I know what was going on there better than you do. I offered you what I know, my own version. although this version is based on concrete facts. if you don’t believe it, well, God be with you, I can’t make you believe. Well, you take it as one of viewpoints then. And the fact that there is misinformation, I understand that and take it in stride because there is a war going on. This is the war of today - hybrid war - it starts with the media and continues with the media which is a powerful weapon. They accompany military operations. I understand that too. I don’t take it well, but I understand, But how do you understand that on the Internet, in other traditional media, you have shut down different points of view altogether? Fine, you don’t want to hear or listen to me or to Belarus. We can be neglected, fine. But listen to the other side, to Russia’s point of view. Why are Russian journalists blocked everywhere? Why are you shutting their mouths? After all, on your platforms controlled by the West and the United States of America, the resources are vast, much larger than what we or the Russians have. You don’t allow a different point of view there at all. And God forbid we sting you on something with a point of view different from yours - you instantly block all sorts of accounts sites and so on. Correct, Natalia Nikolaevna, I’m not mistaken, am I? This is obvious. Why are you afraid of a different point of view? Why don’t you just let it exist in your media? But the fact that you came to see me today, it does you credit.
Question: I respectfully disagree about the way that the Western global media works. But let’s put that to one side, and I’d like to talk a little about your relationship with Vladimir Putin. I would be interested in how you would characterise it. I believe you have had ups and downs in the past, but I would be very interested to know how frank you can be with him, and particularly on the subject of the war, how honest your discussions with him can be.
Answer: I doubt that Vladimir Putin has closer open and friendly relations with any of the world leaders than with the President of Belarus. That’s number one. As for how honest or dishonest I’m being with President Putin, anything I want to say to Putin about what I think, I tell him directly without any approaches and so on, head on, straight forward. I can tell him anything, like to an older brother. And there is no resentment there and there is no perception of any kind. Otherwise, we’d have a difficult relationship or maybe we would not have had one at all. So he’s direct with me, and I’m direct with him, telling him whatever I think. Well, of course I can’t tell you what I talk to Putin about, but we have very worthy honest and open relations, especially now. We went through Belarus in 2020 together. We went through 2020 with him. He cared about what was going on here. Thank goodness we handled it. And when I asked him to support me, if necessary, there were no questions at all. Even in terms of our personal relationships. Why do I have to support you, Americans, the West, who every month introduce more and more sanctions - illegal sanctions against Belarus. We haven’t done anything wrong to you. But you keep pushing us down. And forget me, what are you pushing or people down for? What did we ever do wrong for you to push us down? You have been imagining things all the time. Russia has never allowed itself for at least the last two or three years such a policy - never. Why should I pursue a different policy towards Putin and Russia? The question is rhetorical. That’s why we have a good relationship with him. The best relations that can exist between heads of independent states. And so you just said something unpleasant to him. I promise you that I will pass this conversation to him word for word. I’ll pass it on in a second. We can talk about any topic. We sit down to dinners and lunches together, and can easily discuss all problems: of a personal nature, my family situation, his family situation... [and also] at the state level, Russia’s problems, Belarus’s problems. Recently, he and I were speaking here, and he asked me the question: have you ever been to the [Russian] Far East? I had been to Vladivostok. Please, tell me your opinion. He looked at me again, and asked: what’s your opinion, how are people’s lives there, what else do they need, what are they lacking? What’s your assessment of what has been done in the Far East? I openly told him about my impressions. We talk about Ukraine, I tell him frankly how I see it. But I must also sincerely tell you that I don’t get brazen, colloquially speaking. We don’t need any brazenness here, I’m not going to lecture him and so on. He’s an experienced politician, he doesn’t need to be lectured. And then, of course I know practically everything related to Putin’s policies, including Ukraine. And since I know it, there is no need for me to ask these questions. I can simply express my point of view. That is, there is an orderliness to our relationship... There is no rudeness in our relationship. The fact is that our relationship has had its ups and downs, and we have often argued. Putin is a more reserved person, and he’s right to be one. He often reproaches me: look, this shouldn’t have been made public, put in the public domain so that it can be discussed openly. I’m more of an open person, as you know very well. This is how mutual enrichment happens, we find points of contact, we always find a middle ground. Whether it’s that I learn from him to be calmer, or that he expresses himself more openly, and so on. We’ve had reasons to disagree, and these reasons have not gone away so far. We do talk about them. I sometimes even give him an example. I say, look how Americans and Europeans support Ukraine and each other, how they – and this is key – create equal conditions for all countries. Lithuania, Latvia – Americans and Germans are already fed up with Latvia, but nevertheless, they patiently support it as they had agreed. As for us, we still don’t have equal conditions for people and economic entities, for companies, even in the time of sanctions. We are discussing this openly, little by little, but we are moving forward. I understand Russia’s problem. And this is the age-old problem of equal conditions. We are building a union, we have set out to build a union state, but there should be equal conditions for people, enterprises, companies and businesses. There should be, but that is not yet the case, and this is the main stumbling block. This was related to gas prices, oil resources, access to the markets of the Russian Federation. You remember: now, our milk is bad, and now, something else happens... Of course we have had sharp exchanges on these problems, and, mostly because of me, this would spill out into the public domain. This was because of me, because our style of conducting ourselves in the political arena is a bit different. For this reason, you shouldn’t be surprised that we’ve argued. I would often tell Putin: I’m sorry, I probably went too far, said the wrong thing, and so on. And we would come to the conclusion that even the Americans and the British couldn’t do this, because they don’t have the same close relationship as [him and me], so they can’t express their point of view openly like this. But we – and you will have noticed this, Mr. Phillips – we’ve never had disagreements on the principal issue. And the principal issue is the defense and security of our states. We’ve always spoken with the same voice on this.
Question: Have you ever argued during this war about the humanitarian toll? I know you said that you have common views on what started the war. But, in terms of the destruction and the level of force being used against the civilian population, have you raised this with President Putin?
Answer: Of course, we’ve discussed [this – unspecified], but I don’t need to talk about it again. Let me stress once more: I sometimes see more than he does because the war is going on right across my border. I see what is happening thanks to modern means of oversight. I can see what is happening. The reason I say that I see more than he does is that Lviv, and what’s happening on the Polish-Ukrainian border, even on the borders of Slovakia and Hungary, I see it better than he does. Because it’s practically on my doorstep, next door. That’s why I’m very well immersed in this. And yes, we are discussing this, we see it. And you know, you are always inclined to believe that the Russians over there are like this or like that, there are atrocities, and so on. And I stress once again that there are enough atrocities – as you say – on both sides. There’s a war going on, people are dying. You understand, people are dying, which is why the question isn’t who is to blame. The war must be stopped, then we will figure out who is right and who is to blame. You can always tighten the sanctions then. But we have to stop the loss of life, and this is not even in the hands of Zelenskyy today, it is in the hands of Washington in London. Above all, Europe does not need this war. Which is why... The main point is this: we discuss this openly. I ask him questions, we talk about how people are dying, how many have died on one side and the other. But I can see first-hand how the Russians conduct themselves, especially in the north where they entered [Ukraine] from Belarusian territory. We saw them enter. They did not lay a finger on any peaceful people... But there was too much wishful thinking among the Russians: [they thought that] Ukrainians were so kind, tolerant, good and so on. Somehow, they will reach Kyiv, approach Kyiv and find some sort of agreement. But then, you know, when Ukrainian airborne assault groups, guerilla groups began to strike primarily at not the advanced units of the military, but those who delivered food, gasoline, kerosene and so on... in fact, people who were half civilians ... well then. Once again, I’m not condemning either Ukrainians or Russians here. I’m just telling you that there was enough of what you call atrocities on all sides. Because there’s a war going on, and when your military comrade is killed right by your side – a sergeant, a private, whether he’s an American or anyone else – you know the reaction of the person who stays alive. So you’re probably right about something. Perhaps you’re right about everything form the Western point of view. But that’s not the matter, Mr. Phillips. The matter is that we should stop the war today or tomorrow because today, it is possible. Do you know why it’s possible? Because the escalation has not reached a higher qualitative level, because Russia has not yet used more serious weapons. And [Russia] does have them. I’m not talking about nuclear weapons. Russia has a huge arsenal, and I know it better than you. We cannot allow this conflict to move to a higher level – because neither NATO nor the Americans a thousand kilometers away will help Ukraine by [sending] old or even modern weapons. That won’t help Ukraine, it won’t help. Not because Ukrainians aren’t capable, they simply won’t have been trained to use these weapons. I know how much of your weaponry – that is, US weapons, Western weapons, including modern ones like Javelins or artillery – I know how much of it the Russians are capturing. I’m afraid to say more. Therefore, Ukrainians won’t be successful and Americans understand this better than anyone else. Russia, despite all difficulties, is destined to win. So we have to stop and agree. This is possible now, while the conflict has not moved to a new stage, as I mentioned, a new qualitative stage.
Question: So do you believe that and also based on your conversations with the Russians, that the war will have a diplomatic end, or do you think there will be, will Russia be satisfied with taking parts of eastern Ukraine? And if so, would you support Ukraine losing territory to end the war?
Answer: You know, when it comes to the eastern part [of Ukraine], that can be resolved easily. Even today; neither Russia nor Ukraine will decide it, but the people who live there. I highly doubt that they will want to rejoin Ukraine. They are very afraid, as they understand what will happen to them, how they will be dealt with. This is why the east of Ukraine, the Donbas, Luhansk, can now only be pushed back into Ukraine – to be a constituent part of Ukraine - by force. We missed – as I’ve been saying since 2015 – we missed the moment. This is why a longer period is needed. A period in which it will be necessary to win these people’s interest in living in Ukraine. Today, there’s an independent state there, they’ve declared themselves – conduct any referendum you want, people will reaffirm the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. We have to reconcile ourselves with this. We have to agree. We shouldn’t push them back into Ukraine, that is hopeless. That will not contribute to the ending of that conflict, but will heighten it, lead to escalation. That’s it on the matter. As for diplomacy, Putin and I discussed this subject the day before yesterday. Not only am I aware of it, but Putin told me in detail about the proposals that were submitted to Ukraine, to the Ukrainian leadership. There was no answer. That’s what he told me: there was no answer. So how does the Ukrainian leadership want to stop the war by diplomatic means? Apparently it doesn’t. Or... perhaps it’s not that the Ukrainian leadership doesn’t want to, perhaps it can’t. It can’t for one reason. Because today it’s not Zelenskyy ruling Ukraine. I hope he’s not offended by this, this is my point of view, perhaps I’m wrong. It’s you who are in charge there. And if you say, if Joe Biden says: all right, boys, you’ve had a war – as we say in Russian, you’ve messed each other up – now let’s stop it. Nobody needs war. War isn’t profitable. Then everything will be over within a week. You are worried about Luhansk and Donetsk – these will be the first steps in order to carry out restoration, and make the first steps to determine where people will live. For Russia, Luhansk and Donetsk are a huge burden. Russia has enough territory in any case. But Russia cannot let Russian speakers be humiliated and oppressed right on its borders.
I don’t know if you’ve been to Donbas. Go there, and you’ll see: even among those who remain, those are Russian people. I know the policy of the United States and I support it in this regard - If a US citizen, an American, is so much as offended anywhere, you throw all the forces of the state to protect him. Why do you deprive Russia of this right? And there was no need to do that. What is so wrong if Ukrainians spoke Russian. If someone doesn’t like that, spread the Ukrainian language calmly, step by step. But why do you prohibit people from speaking Ukrainian at the legislative level? Volodymyr Zelenskyy was unable to speak Ukrainian when he became president. He set himself a goal to speak Ukrainian not worse than Russian. He has achieved this goal. Why don’t Ukrainians give this right to others? No, they started to break through the knee. We went through this in Belarus. Belarusian and Russian are official languages in our country. It is fine, we are communicating, I am speaking in Russian. I could also speak in Belarusian. I don’t force anyone to speak this particular language. Today, we speak English, your native language, no worse than Belarusian and we did not impose it, it was necessary because it is an international language, it must be known. The current generation – my children and so on – have never lived abroad, neither in America nor in England, they speak English fluently. They mastered it at school, at university. The youngest one is studying in English just as in Russian and Belarusian. Why was it impossible to promote such tolerance in Ukraine? Why did they burn 50 people who thought otherwise in Odesa a year ago? One year ago I think… one year, yes? [Asks off camera] It happened a year ago in Odesa? Oh yes, the anniversary recently passed. Why were the people burned? They also openly said that ‘we burned the separatists.’ (There was) silence (in response). And what about me? They wiped their feet on me in 2020, accusing me that I killed someone and so on. And what about [French President Emmanuel] Macron now? People died after the election. In your Capitol, people were shot, a woman who went to war for the US. Why is there silence? You know, it’s not very just. Again we digressed, but nevertheless, parallels, parallels, parallels. You are talking about atrocities. You asked me a question, and I thought Americans shouldn’t talk about it. Before my eyes, Iraq – I knew Saddam Hussein very well. I knew him very well. Moreover, I’ll tell you, in the final months, he asked me to pass over to you, the Americans, through the embassy: ‘I don’t want to fight America. I’m ready. Does America need oil? I’ll do everything necessary for them to get oil. They need this, I’ll do it.’ He was ready, why did you hang him? Take the Libyan leader, take the Syrian leader and these countries. And what about Afghanistan. What do you call that? What do you call it when your plane takes off and people fall from the fuselage and the chassis to the ground? This is not an atrocity? And what about the wedding? An ordinary wedding is underway, an American drone carries out a strike, and people die. They apologized later, but what is the use of apologizing? What do you call that? We’re not going to say atrocities or otherwise, this is war, Mr. Phillips. This is war wherever it is, in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, in Iraq, and it must be stopped and afterward figure out who is right and who is wrong.
Question: If we could return to the strategy of the war and the future of the war. You mentioned weapons that could be used, that you hope will not be used. Do you think there is a possibility if this war continues, if Russia continues to struggle to take territory, that a nuclear strike is possible? And if that were plausible, is that a red line for you? Is that something you would try to stop?
Answer: The use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, because it’s near us, we’re here, we’re not behind an ocean, like the United States, so it unacceptable because of that, too, and also because it could rip the Earth of the orbit, and it will fly who knows where. That is the reason for the use of nuclear weapons being unacceptable. Whether or not Russia is capable of that is a question you need to ask the Russian leadership. But as I already said, Russia is fated to victory, not only will Russia not lose. Russia can’t lose this operation by definition. We should proceed on this basis. What weapon Russia will use? I can express my point of view. It doesn’t so much depend on Ukraine as on you, on NATO. You cross the red line there. I sometimes ask Putin: there are deliveries of arms supplies by rail from Lviv, from Slovakia, Romania and Poland, I ask him why the supplies of these weapons are not being intercepted, which tomorrow will be directed against the Russian people, Russians who are fighting there. He is still being careful. After all, it is rather elementary to end the supplies. He most likely does not want a global confrontation with NATO. Take advantage. Take advantage of this, otherwise, the military will react, even if Putin doesn’t want it. The Russian military will react to echelons of aircraft and other things that supply weapons there. By doing this, you are being drawn into the war in Ukraine. You are afraid and keep saying that the NATO bloc will not fight, it does not get involved in the war. You are already involved there. You reproach me for something by calling me an aggressor together with Putin, a co-aggressor. You have been aggressors there for a long time. I’ll share with you one thought that hasn’t left me lately. A crazy idea, but it seems to me that if other countries, for example, Poland, continue to behave this way then we – Russians, Belarus and Ukraine – will fight against you together. Because already certain figures and politicians in Poland are sharpening their sabers and are seeing Western Ukraine as part of Poland. The dismemberment of Ukraine is already in their heads. Even the current leadership of Ukraine, cannot afford this. Alone the Ukrainians will not be able to stand against such so-called current allies. Therefore, I do not exclude that we three Slavic peoples, including Ukrainians, will have to defend the integrity of Ukraine. For me, the destruction of Ukraine and the loss of the integrity of Ukraine’s independence are unacceptable and I will do everything to ensure that Ukraine remains within its borders. That is also Zelenskyy’s vision. So you understand, this unusual crazy idea that we together will confront the Poles or someone else. After all, for the Poles, who are the Poles? It’s you, the Americans, on the one hand, England, on the other hand, you took the European Union in a grip and hold it tightly so that they would not make noise. So time will tell. This is going to be a very serious escalation, so it must be stopped.
Question: Are you surprised at how long the war has lasted? Did you think there would be a quick Russian victory? And what is your opinion of how President Zelenskyy has handled the war, both internally, but also with his relationships globally?
Answer: To be honest, I didn’t think this conflict would drag on. Putin called this a special military operation, he did not declare war, I know that for sure, he and the military did not have a goal to occupy Ukraine or to bring it to its knees. I’ll tell you more, remember after the first conflict after the Crimea, the first clash over Luhansk and Donetsk and so on. Russia was not very involved in this conflict, but then nothing. Putin was offered, before my very eyes, they offered him to make his way to Transnistria from Donetsk and take the entire south of Ukraine and cut it off from the sea. What they are fighting for now. Putin said no, I cannot agree to this. He had plenty of supporters, to avoid this escalation. He could have done it very easily in 2015 or in 2014. I was a witness to this. And this time, he does not intend and is not going to occupy Ukraine and bring it to its knees. One of the reasons is not to break Ukraine apart so that there are no Americans, Poles, Romanians in different parts in Ukraine, and so on. He does not want that. He wants to see a friendly and whole Ukraine. I fully support it. This is also my position. But it must be a country that does not create problems for its neighbors. This is the purpose of this operation. To be honest, I didn’t think this operation would drag on this way. But I am not immersed in this problem enough to say whether it goes according to plan, like the Russians say, or like I feel it. I want to stress one more time, I feel like this operation has dragged on. But this is my point of view on the basis of the facts that I have at my disposal. But I emphasize once again I am not immersed in detail in order to answer the question as to whether things are going according to plan or not. And the second part of the question… regarding Zelensky. I have already said Volodymyr Zelensky does not have any behavior of his own. So how can I relate? I would like to see him be an independent person and understand that there is war underway in Ukraine, not in America, not in Poland, not in Belarus or Russia. He is not a foolish person. To say that he’s a fool or that he doesn’t understand. No, he’s a smart person. But he can’t. He can’t because of you, as I said, but there are also enough forces internally that will simply prevent him from establishing peace in a diplomatic way today. This is my point of view, I may be mistaken but I am becoming convinced of this more and more. His behavior, I don’t know he needs to be president, it’s time to shave and dress normally and show the Ukrainian people and the global community that every day he is getting better and better. He must get out of this image. This game dragged on. But he’s a filmmaker, he’s an actor, he’s an artist, he knows better. And he is living in a particular situation. I’m not immersed in this situation as he is, so I won’t condemn him, but that’s my opinion.
Question: I’d like to discuss the economic impact on Belarus of the war, with sanctions hitting both Russia and your country. If the war continues, if there’s no end in sight and this economic pressure continues, what does that mean for you politically? Will the Russian support that you get economically be less? And does that loosen your own grip on power?
Answer: You know, by and large, with the exception of two or three groups of goods, we do not need any support from Russia or other. Although it (Russia) supports us in everything, whatever we ask it for, in loans, credits, money and goods, and so on. Why am I saying that we do not need support? Because 85 percent of everything we produce today is needed by Russia. We calmly trade for Russian rubles, we sell our goods there we get Russian rubles and for Russian rubles we buy gas oil would as we have agreed. Misfortune helped where happiness couldn’t (Russian proverb). We used to buy energy resources in Russia for dollars but today they are fine with the Russian ruble. So imagine 85% of all that we export is needed in Russia. Well, in part, something to China as well, especially foodstuffs. China needs plenty of foodstuffs. As for some product groups, you know well, we also find solutions, logistics supplies and so on. Europe and America… let’s say we are blocked for the supply of Belarusian mineral fertilizers. Well, listen in America, they are in great demand today. Prices have risen not only for oil, gas and mineral fertilizers but also for food. Even more so in Europe. Why are we dug in like fools slapping sanctions on each other? The European Union has banned our cars from going to the European Union, then we banned them from moving around the territory of Belarus. We are starting to reload these goods. What did we lose from this? Nothing. our logistics, logistics centers, and warehouses get good income at whose expense? At the expense of Western suppliers. Who needs this? Or Lithuania and Latvia closed ports for our goods. God be with them, we will reorient ourselves to Russia. and are now loading, including potassium, oil products. Who needs this? I don’t understand why it is necessary for Lithuanians, Latvians and Poles to come to us with buckets, barrels and cans and fill up on diesel and gasoline. It is three times cheaper here. who benefits from it? This is the madness of the politicians. In the two weeks of visa-free regime for neighbors that we introduced only with Lithuania and Latvia, more than 19,000 people entered. These are normal people. They buy salt from us, they buy cereals, diesel and so on. Who have they done harm to? Even in America, it’s not easy right now, that is why no one needs this here either. We will survive. Everything that we produce today on international markets is in demand, which means that one way or another it will be sold for the most part in Russia. So I’m absolutely convinced that we will endure. Of course, sanctions are not sugar, not candy, not tea. It’s not pleasant, but apparently this is your policy. You are used to choking unreasonably. If you want me to remember an example remember that Ryanair plane. Why am I not hearing about this topic lately? Why are you not listing it as a complaint against me? But because it was fake (news) on your part. Specialists have figured out that there are no grounds to file a claim against us. And after that, silence. And all this will soon be gone. Your sanctions are illegal, especially against Belarus. You reproach me for being an aggressor, Putin number one and I’m Putin number two, co-aggressors and so on. I just told you that you are the bigger aggressor than me because you are directly involved through private military companies, mercenaries, weapons supplies to Ukraine. You are bigger aggressors. But you know as the President of Belarus, I am waging an amazing war. Our military service members have not killed a single Ukrainian and not a single Russian in this war. And the Russians and Ukrainians have not killed a single Belarusian. Strange, don’t you think? So wake up, what do you reproach me for? And when I initiated these negotiations, 15 minutes remained, they would have been gone. I called Zelenskyy — I knew Putin’s position — and invited them to one location in Belarus, and to a second and a third. Zelenskyy, as a capricious girl, was against it. He agreed to the third location. For 24 hours, I rode his people by helicopter to Belarus via America, figuratively speaking. The negotiations began and had a second and a third round so on. But the Americans didn’t like it. How can a dictator organize negotiations? No, they gave the Zelenskyy team an order not to go to Belarus. Well, God be with you, don’t come. But for some reason, these negotiations are nowhere to be seen or heard. So don’t reproach me that I’m fighting somewhere. If I am fighting, then this is an interesting war where no one kills anyone. That is why sanctions must be stopped. Let’s live in a friendly manner.
Question: And yet you are an influential figure in this region and in this war. Would you publicly call for an end to the war? Would you publicly ever acknowledge that a line has been crossed, that there is too much bloodshed and that the Russian forces must withdraw?
Answer: I’ll say right now to you: this conflict must be stopped. No one needs it, people are dying. It must be stopped. I know Russia’s position 100 percent. I assume the position of the West. Interests here have already collided and you do not deny it even. I would like the West to listen. Bad Putin or good Putin, Russia did the right thing or the wrong thing. I repeat: not now. Now we need to stop the war then we’ll figure it out. Take a step towards bad Putin, take this step. Nobody needs war. It is bad and must be stopped. Have you heard me? I say it all the time. Here in Belarus. if I went to war, it would be very difficult for me. Our people do not accept war, including me. I do not want this war, because, I repeat, now is the moment when this conflict will move to a qualitatively new level and it will be hard to stop and God forbid we get to a nuclear conflict. That would be it! So let’s stop it.
Question: My last question, I’d like to talk about the situation domestically in the country. As we all know, hundreds of thousands of people protested in 2020. There are more than 1000 political prisoners in jail. Media outlets are unable to operate freely. In fact, one association just won a UNESCO award for press freedom. But we know that there are, there is a big clampdown on the free press. There has also been a recent campaign against independent trade unions. I’d like to ask you, what do you fear about civil society and civil liberties?
Answer: How many? More than 1,000 (political prisoners in Belarus)? Yesterday, the Americans told me that it was 500 and you say more than 1,000. This is news to me. But once I free up a little bit, I’ll count them. Let’s will consider that there are 500 to 1000 political prisoners in prisons. I honestly can’t say 500 or 1,000. This is just a remark. Listen, why you are so afraid of women that you shot this woman in the Capitol live on television? A rhetorical question. I know you’re not afraid. In the same way, I’m not afraid of anyone here. But I’m not going to let anyone destroy the country. Our situation is not easy. You know that our western neighbors are dreaming of chopping off half of Belarus as it was before ’39 in favor of that country. To our south, as you just said, a very acute hot conflict. It is not easy. I’m just the President of the country, I am responsible for the integrity and independence of the state. I see certain threats. Before August 2020, I calmly looked at these things, understood and thought that the West is democracy, freedom of speech, and they are bringing this freedom of speech to Belarus. And then I saw how, for your money, they tried to break this country. You saw for yourself how and by whom this blitzkrieg was managed. Associated Press, you as an experienced mastodon journalist saw who was managing this through messengers, through the internet and so on. We know whose money and naturally, I reacted. This is not independence, it’s not freedom of speech. If you don’t like you something, you shut it down. Neither we nor anyone can express a different point of view on your YouTubes and Twitters and so on. No one can. They ban it and that’s all. And you push only one topic, and fake news at that. This is your freedom of speech.
Here a journalist expresses his point of view on Russia in the West and so on. The only thing that is forbidden is to destroy the country. We learned this from you. You also do not allow anyone to destroy the United States of America or England or Germany and others. What is unusual in what I do? We’re good students. Excuse my lack of modesty, but I’m also a good student, I’m learning from you. But here, freedom of speech and democracy, which you constantly speak about, means more than the manifestations of this democracy in the United States of America and England and the European Union. So step away from these cliches. No one here shuts anyone’s mouth. I have fought and will continue to fight against those who want to destroy the country. What’s wrong with that? This is my constitutional duty. If you are going to a railway to try and derail a train in which people are traveling or which is transporting dangerous goods from Europe to Russia and vice versa, I must ensure safety and I ensure it with all methods at my disposal. I will continue to do so. I do not intend to close anyone’s mouth. You pressure me, you condemn and criticize me. You are asking me uncomfortable questions, I am answering them live on air. Everybody can hear us. What a lack of freedom of speech is there here? Millions of people see you and dozens of millions will see you and me this evening. I’ve expressed my point of view. There’s something you don’t agree with. You are asking me very correctly but nevertheless, ask nasty questions. I take it normally. You’re the host today since I agreed to this interview, I’m at your disposal. I’m obligated to answer any questions you ask. You’re the boss here, not me. If I didn’t like Western journalists, I could have refused this interview, but since I agreed then I have to listen and respond. Millions are listening. What sort of oppression of freedom of speech is there here? Believe me, these independent unions, they are independent on paper.
Question: And yet respectfully, Belarus has one of the highest numbers of journalists in jail. That is a fact.
Answer: Well, you know, I can’t argue about this because I don’t know how many journalists you have in prison in the United States of America, in Germany and in other countries. I don’t know that we have a lot of journalists (in prison). I don’t know how many journalists I’ll tell you honestly, but I will look into it today. I think you’re misinformed. When people here commit offenses under the law like in America — only you have tougher laws — if they break the law and come under investigation, they all become journalists or members of independent trade unions so that you can hear them and then reproach me. Don’t violate laws, either for journalists or politicians. Whoever it is, the law is one and it must be observed. Sorry, I’m reasoning according to how I understand it. Maybe I don’t understand it properly. Maybe you don’t like it but that’s my point. You see it one way, I see it a different way. Although, I don’t think what you’re asking me is your point of view. You represent an organization. An upstanding organization and your point of view may not fully coincide with the point of view of your organization. But you asked these questions. I think this is your position. I answered your questions however I could. Always happy to answer them, always at your service. I will never hide from any questions, even the most unpleasant ones that may not be correct to ask you. I’m always going to answer them. We’re used to it. We have true freedom of speech.