Well-known Russian journalist and public figure Kseniya Sobchak had a three-hour talk to Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka who is usually hard-to-get for reporters. The interview was broadcast Wednesday by TV Rain (Dozhd), a Russian independent television channel.
‘Referendums in eastern Ukraine mean nothing’
The recent ‘self-rule’ referendums in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces bear no significance from a legal viewpoint. ‘I do not even say under what conditions the referendums were held,’ the Belarusian leader noted.
‘Any referendum should be conducted on the basis of the constitution,’ he stressed.
When asked whether the organizers of the referendum could be called separatists, Mr Lukashenka said: ‘This is a matter of taste. Some like to call them separatists, but I would like to say that too many stupid things have been done in Ukraine. I know very well, better than anyone in Russia, what is going on in Ukraine, for many reasons and through many channels. People have been stupefied. People have gone crazy. They do not understand what is going on. Federalization, decentralization, eurointegration and so on. Putin was right to suggest that they should meet with those so-called separatists, talk to them and find out what they want. They [current Ukrainian authorities] should not make the same mistake as [ousted President Viktor] Yanukovych.’
According to Mr Lukashenka, Ukraine will not have a national leader and will be in chaos. ‘In such a situation, there should be a leader who would say what to do and everyone would follow him,’ Mr Lukashenka noted.
He stressed that he advocated a united Ukraine and he had told Vladimir Putin about that.
Nothing similar to what has happened in Ukraine can ever occur in Belarus under any circumstances, ‘at least until I am president’, Mr Lukashenka said.
Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov would have been arrested if he had joined potash giant Uralkali’s then CEO Vladislav Baumgertner on his trip to Belarus last August.
If Mr Kerimov, Uralkali’s top shareholder at that time, had been arrested, he would have never been extradited to Russia, Mr Lukashenka said.
Belarusian authorities instituted criminal proceedings against Mr Kerimov in September 2013. The case was linked to Uralkali’s July 30, 2013 decision to quit Belarusian Potash Company, its joint trading arm with Belarusian potash company Belaruskali. The move angered Minsk, which claims that it cost the country at least $100 million.
‘He is at fault, he masterminded all that, he cheated, he came here, swore, promised,’ Mr. Lukashenka said of Mr Kerimov.
According to Mr. Lukashenka, two weeks before Uralkali quit the joint trader, the tycoon promised him that the alliance would be preserved.
‘I will say frankly, Kerimov is now asking to be received by me. He believes that he is guilty,’ he said.
Mr Lukashenka accused the businessman of breaking their agreements. ‘He did so with defiance. He removed all servers, documents from offices of our joint company,’ he said.
In late 2013, Mr Kerimov sold his 21.75-percent stake in Uralkali to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s investment company Onexim.
‘I lifted Belarus from utter poverty’
Aliaksandr Lukashenka claimed that he had lifted the country from utter poverty and expressed certainty that his political opponents would bungle the job of presidency. He also said that there was nothing wrong with one and the same person ruling a country for many years.
‘Let people determine. They elected me and I have not ruined the country,’ he said.
Recalling the time when he was elected president in 1994, Mr Lukashenka said that there was no food in stores and not a single factory was operating. ‘I still remember: when I came to [television maker] Horizont, I was standing and crying, women were standing and crying, an older woman came up to me and said that she wanted a monthly salary of at least $20. This is where we started from,’ he said.
Mr Lukashenka said that he did not want to depart from the post of president because he feared that Belarus could be mismanaged into poverty again. ‘I know that [if the opposition comes to power] things will be worse than in Ukraine,’ he said.
Mr Lukashenka said that he was against grooming someone to become his successor. ‘I will be the happiest man if I am replaced by a person who will do better than me but who will not send the country down,’ he said.
Asked by interviewer Kseniya Sobchak about his idea of his funeral, Mr Lukashenka said that he wanted to be laid to rest in his native village.
No one has ever come out in support of Belarus while talking to the West as hard as Mikheil Saakashvili did, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.
‘He was on friendly terms with America and he told the [US] vice president and the president that they pursued a wrong policy regarding Belarus, and that there should be no sanctions against the country because that was a normal country with a normal president,’ the Belarusian leader said.
He noted that Mr Saakashvili had repeatedly invited him to visit Georgia. ‘I told him: ‘Misha [Mikheil], I can’t come to you, to Georgia, because we don’t need extra problems. The leadership of Russia won’t like that. Let’s wait until a better time.’ ’
Young women as entourage
He said that it was his principle never to be surrounded by government officials while attending shows and sports events. ‘I always have my little son sitting next to me on one side and a girl on the other,’ he said.
According to Mr Lukashenka, during his latest appearance at Team Belarus’ game at the ongoing world hockey championship he was sitting next to TV presenter Palina Shuba.
He noted that many of his female companions represented the protocol service of the Palace of the Republic. ‘When I attend some event they ask to sit next to me,’ he said.
Commenting on his recent appearance in company with Darya Shmanay, a beauty pageant winner in 2013, Mr Lukashenka said that he had met her for the first time two years ago. ‘She is very decent, if I had such a girlfriend it would be more than I could wish for,’ he said.
‘Belarus still has no national idea’
‘This is a very serious issue and if you think you have found it, you are mistaken,’ the Belarusian leader said.
According to him, about a decade ago, he tasked his government with determining what should be the national idea of Belarus as a nation, but he had to reject everything that was proposed.
The assumption that Russia is not Europe cannot be Russia’s national idea and the assumption that Belarus is the centre of Europe cannot be the national idea of Belarus, Mr Lukashenka said.
Patriotism by itself does not suffice to be regarded as the national idea of Belarus because it does not distinguish Belarus from other nations, he noted. ‘We need something that would captivate the entire nation,’ he said.
No plans to divorce his wife
Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that he had no intention to divorce his wife despite their decades-long separation.
Mr Lukashenka revealed that he had not lived with Halina Lukashenka, his wife and mother of his two sons, for ‘some 30 years’ but noted that their divorce would traumatize her.
According to Mr Lukashenka, Kolya, his nine-year-old son with another woman, has never asked him to divorce his wife.
‘I don’t understand who needs that,’ he said. ‘[It would be different] if I were 30 years old and the whole life were in front of me and I were to marry again tomorrow.’
Mr Lukashenka described his wife as an ‘extremely decent person.’
He noted that he remained on very good terms with his mother-in-law, Alena Zhalnerovich. ‘She has always loved me and I always visit her,’ he said. ‘This is the second most important person to me after my mother. If it were not for her I would not have become president, maybe I would not even have been a normal person.’
Mr Lukashenka also commented on Vladimir Putin‘s divorce from his wife Lyudmila, suggesting that the Russian president may have been pressured into such a step by another woman.
‘You think that this is a very honest and decent act? Think about all aspects, including Lyuda’s situation, the children and so on,’ he said, referring to Mr Putin’s ex-wife.
Addressing interviewer Kseniya Sobchak, Mr. Lukashenka said, ‘God forbid you experience what Lyuda did.’
‘Being in opposition to government is paid well’
It pays well to be in opposition to the current government in Belarus, and therefore Belarus’ “so-called opposition” does not seek to take power in the country, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.
However, opposition leaders are currently paid less than before because they have showed their unworthiness, the Belarusian leader stressed.
According to him, he is aware that ‘money was again brought to the opposition’ on the occasion of the forthcoming world ice hockey championship in Minsk.
‘I shut my eyes to this,’ he said, noting that he asked his state security agencies to overlook some things, as opposition activists did not take away that money but spent it inside the country, buying housing, cars and motor fuel for themselves.
‘Thankfully, we don’t have to pay them to have a government-supported opposition as is the case in your country,’ Mr Lukashenka said.