The work schedule of the Belarus president is always full of events. Aleksandr Lukashenko holds conferences and working meetings on the most topical matters for the country's development, regularly visits the regions, goes on foreign trips and welcomes foreign guests, talks to reporters, signs decrees and laws… And even if there are no public events, it does not mean that the head of state does not work. It must be said that even when he relaxes, for instance, by playing ice hockey or chopping firewood, Aleksandr Lukashenko sometimes finds the time to give yet another instruction. All the decisions must be prompted by life, he likes to say.
The President's Week project is intended for those, who want to keep up with the head of state, be up-to-date on the latest statements and decisions of the Belarusian leader.
What challenges does the Belarusian border service face? Why did the president draw attention to the protection of legal rights and interests of people? Will fugitive Belarusian citizens get a second chance and what will a special commission led by the prosecutor general do? Why is it so important to rally right now in order to survive? New business operation terms for marketplace sellers, an extra hard task for road construction and maintenance services, and much more in the new episode of BelTA's President's Week project.
Apart from that, at the end of the workweek Aleksandr Lukashenko left Belarus for the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe. The leadership of these countries had invited him to come. A number of meetings and negotiations have been planned. BelTA will surely tell you about them in the next episode of the President's Week project.
IN AIR AND ON THE GROUND. What is happening at Belarusian borders and how will they be guarded?
Aleksandr Lukashenko dedicated the first day of the workweek to border security. It was a traditional event. Every year the Belarus president signs a decision on protecting the state border. This year he has signed two documents like that: on protecting the state border on the ground and in the air.
Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, First Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Gulevich explained this need by a tense military-political situation around Belarus. In his words, Belarus' Armed Forces have previously carried out this task, but now their responsibility has been stepped up. “Our forces and assets are ready to cover the southern operational direction. They are located in areas where they can respond in a timely manner to all the risks, challenges and threats that arise in the south of our country,” the chief of the General Staff stressed. “The development of the situation, its tension forced us last year to build up the forces and assets of the radio technology troops, air defense missile troops and electronic warfare troops. It is the use of these means that helps us reduce and, to a certain extent, rule out the passage of air intruders into the territory of our country,” he added. For example, the integrated use of these forces and assets made it possible to detect an air target over the territory of Belarus on 29 December 2022 in a timely manner: an S-300 air defense guided missile fired from the territory of Ukraine.
State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aleksandr Volfovich, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, and Chairman of the State Border Committee of Belarus Anatoly Lappo were also invited to attend the government conference hosted by the president.
“Although today's event is traditional - at the beginning of every year we take decisions on border protection - yet, the year 2023 is not like any other year, as the situation around Belarus (the military and political situation, and the economic situation as well) is not simple. This is why our today's meeting is special. First of all, I would like the chairman of the State Border Committee to report on what is happening along the perimeter of the border today. Of course, we have raised this issue more than once last year and this year. The situation is changing quickly, the dynamics are fast. How would you describe the situation today?” the head of state asked.
The second topic highlighted at the meeting with the president was the situation with refugees. “We know that even though the flow has dwindled, people are still fleeing the war. As far as people from Ukraine are concerned, these are our people, there are no big problems here. Those who want can come here and stay. Some ask for some kinds of assistance, food, shelter, medical care. We do this all. There are no particular problems here,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
At the same time the president pointed out the continuous flow of people from Asia, including from countries such as Afghanistan and a number of others.
“The army is the third very serious item on the agenda of today's meeting as it has to do with the protection of the state border. We did not hide it, we beefed up our border troops using our army units. What is the situation in this regard? You, as a commander, should have an understanding of whether the forces and means we are deploying to strengthen the state border are enough. This includes the border area in the south of Belarus, at the border with Ukraine,” the president told Chairman of the State Border Committee Anatoly Lappo. “The police are involved, local authorities already joined in. They are doing a great job, they help in every way they could. Well, the Armed Forces are also involved.”
The head of state was briefed on border protection in 2022 and the situation in view of the combat operations in the neighboring state - Ukraine. “We had to fully restructure border protection in the southern direction,” the State Border Committee chief told reporters.
In his words, all state border protection tasks set for 2022 were fulfilled. “Tasks for this year are just as important. I think that with our forces and means we will fulfill these tasks and ensure reliable protection of the borders,” he said. “The task is to ensure reliable protection of the state border and to make sure that law-abiding citizens are allowed into our country. Another task is to become a reliable shield against those who come to us with bad intentions.” The State Border Committee has all the necessary forces and means to carry out this task, and new equipment is also being brought in. “If there are new tasks, we will think of new equipment,” the official said.
In his words, tensions at the border persist also because of the situation with refugees. “Some countries are destroyed, people have nowhere to live, they were called [to Western European countries], and they will keep coming. This trend was last year, and it will be this year as well. We will have this trend until people without a roof over their heads find one. They should not be promised mountains of gold, then there will be fewer such problems,” said Anatoly Lappo.
GOING BACK HOME. How can one stop being a fugitive and come back home without problems?
The government conference hosted by the head of state on 24 January to discuss the social and political situation and the crime rate in the country caused a big uproar both in Belarus and abroad. “I ask you to pay special attention to crimes of a terrorist nature. This is very important for us today. If we draw a line under the issues related to crime, we will see that it is a profound matter, which is the protection of the legal rights and interests of our people. This is the main issue for today,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “We have been paying little attention to this problem lately. Yet, it exists. Even if it may seem a drop in the ocean in comparison with other states, even the most democratic ones, we must keep an eye on it.”
Attention was also paid to the problem of those, who left Belarus in the wake of year 2020 events, would like to return now but fear the consequences. “What we can do about those who spoke out against the state just yesterday (we all remember the year 2020), left the country (some are serving sentences), and have repented today but are afraid to come back or are asking me for pardon. I feel that a certain part of our society is showing an interest in the matter. I have instructed the Belarus President Administration to consider the issue together with the general public and propose a mechanism for its solution,” the Belarusian leader said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed he had instructed to consider the matter together with the general public for a reason and the opinion of law enforcement personnel and the military personnel, who did not waver at a difficult time and did everything to restore order in the country, was important to him. “The opinion of the people who serve in special units is very important to me. These are the military people who helped restore order. Our internal troops fought to the bitter end here. I respect them deeply, and I take their opinion into account,” he said.
The president added that it is the duty of the military and civil servants, on the one hand, to act tough, defending the country as well as law and order, but at the same time, following the interests of the state, to meet somebody halfway if necessary.
“I said this in the church: we should not create any additional points of tension in our society. Therefore, I instructed the Belarus President Administration to work on this issue jointly with the public, and to propose a possible solution [to the return of those who went abroad after the 2020 events in Belarus]. Those who are ready to live peacefully and create value for their country should not be rejected by society. This is an axiom. It was not my idea. And if we are wise people and the government has signs of wisdom, it should act accordingly. We should not shun those who stumbled and realized it, we should make a step towards them,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
He stated that enemies will prevent these people from returning home in every possible way: “We see this. For the self-exiled opposition, who uses the interests of the people as a bargaining chip, ordinary people will always be a battering ram to fight against the state and a stable source of personal wealth.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko also indicated that not everyone can expect understanding and forgiveness. “Those who deliberately broke the law, endangered human lives, continue destructive activities against our country with the support of Western intelligence agencies will be held accountable. We have brought the law into line and toughened it quite a bit. After all, some of those who fled (they need to provide for themselves somehow) have been radicalized and now they rely on the use of force and the creation of illegal paramilitary formations. In this case there is no returning home and there will never be,” the president said.
A lot of work needs to be done to sort things out. “We should not act indiscriminately, because in this case our supporters will have every reason to change their mind about us and we will lose them. We must take this into account,” the president emphasized.
“Those who recognized their guilt, those who repented, made a public statement. Those are mandatory. And then together with journalists, bloggers, those who were on the frontline, we will decide what to do with them. But a step forward must be taken,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is sure. “We need to figure out who has really revised their attitudes and wants to live peacefully, study and work, and who does not. Yet, we should not lose sight of the fact that some of them might take advantage of our conciliatory gesture and inflict some damage. It is also in the interests of intelligence services of foreign states, especially our next-door neighbors who are mean-spirited towards us (they are acting worse than countries that are further away from our borders). Therefore, our task is to apply an individual approach to everyone and to take fair decisions.”
An interdepartmental commission will be set up and headed by the prosecutor general as a result of the government conference. The interdepartmental commission is expected to start working soon: the corresponding draft presidential decree is being developed. The head of state instructed to prepare the document as soon as possible. It will be possible to apply to the commission in any convenient form. The president's main requirement is to give people a chance.
The commission will include representatives of the general public and government bodies, MPs. Those who want to return home but are wary of doing so will have an opportunity to contact the commission (information will be posted in all media outlets) and get appropriate information regarding the presence or absence of any claims from the government to this particular person.
TO STOP MISSILES FLYING. Who should not come forth in these turbulent times?
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed the importance of the fact that Belarus and its nation endured in 2020. But there are still those, who may still fail to recognize what happened. Or those, who are funded by the West to try to seed discord in the Belarusian society. The president warned those in no uncertain terms that the government's response will be harsh.
“Some are lying in wait. Some are very vocal about their positions. We respond harshly. The events of 2020 will not be repeated. It is bad that the situation around the country is such, especially with regard to our dear Ukraine. But that's a lesson for all ten million Belarusians and people who visit us. Everyone has already understood: if we had not survived in 2020, the country would have been worse off than Ukraine. Ukraine is a rich country, richer than Belarus. Things would have been worse here. I don't want people to thank us endlessly but everyone understands why and thanks to whom the country survived. Given everything that has happened, there are still some people who persist with this nasty business of fighting against the people and against the government... But some are wary of acting openly. What response do they expect from us?” the president asked rhetorically.
“Of course, we react harshly to this. We will never allow the events of 2020 to happen again. The pandemic and other issues, pre-election and election issues played their role but this is not an excuse. We need to rally together now in order to survive and to avoid war,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The head of state noted that the West has not abandoned its plans for Belarus. Ukraine continues to train militants and extremists. “I don't know why Ukraine needs this. On the one hand, they ask us not to send troops to Ukraine. They suggest a non-aggression pact. On the other hand, they are preparing this explosive mixture and are arming them. Poland and Lithuania have gone totally mad. Why are they acting like that? I don't get it. Therefore, we are forced to react harshly. We have enough problems along the perimeter - both in the airspace and on the ground, the green border. We have enough problems there. Let's hope we cope with all of them. We do not need internal problems. Therefore, the reaction to this internal opposition, which are more like extremists, like cockroaches crawling out of the woodwork, will be harsh. They should consider themselves warned,” the Belarusian leader stressed.
POPULAR SCIENCE. Who and why stands in awe of Belarusian R&D products?
In addition to the main items on the agenda the head of state used the occasion to address a number of other topical matters starting with the maintenance and repairs of Belarusian roads and ending with the operation of marketplace sellers. He also gave instructions to more actively popularize and demonstrate achievements of Belarusian scientists. There is a demand for it taking into account the strong interest in the Intellectual Belarus expo.
The head of state noted requests had been submitted to extend the duration of the expo and it had been done upon the president's instructions. “The exhibition stayed open for just three days. This is not right. Then a flood of requests came, including from the regions, to extend the Intellectual Belarus expo in order to draw more young people. They all are glued to their phones, iPhones, and the rest and are convinced that nothing constructive is being built or designed in the country. But those who have been to the expo cannot stop gushing being amazed at what the country can design and manufacture," the Belarusian leader said.
It is especially important, according to the head of state, to organize visits of students of colleges, technical schools and universities to the expo: “They need to come and see the future. About a thousand exhibits are on display, and they demonstrate our future, prospects. Scientists demonstrate them. Everyone should see it.”
The Belarusian regions also showed a great interest in the event but not everyone was able to come to Minsk to see it. “The regions are asking to bring the expo to them. We need to showcase our R&D achievements in the oblast capitals, large cities,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Let them see what our scientists are doing, and what future and perspective our country has.”
The president stressed that the organization of such events proves that Belarus is a highly intellectual country despite its small size.
CONCERNS OF MARKETPLACE SELLERS. How self-employed businessmen are supposed to run their businesses?
Aleksandr Lukashenko drew attention to the situation concerning self-employed businessmen as a matter of current interest. They are supposed to work according to new rules as of 2023. But it seems that not all of them fully understand why and how working conditions have changed. This is why the head of state instructed officials to talk to the businesspersons and explain everything in detail one more time. “Igor Petrovich [Sergeyenko, Head of the Belarus President Administration], the government has to be instructed one more time, you have to make sure our policy regarding self-employed businessmen is explained to them,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
In his words, changes concerning self-employed businessmen were declared in advance and this category of the private sector had plenty of time to prepare for them. “We didn't make the decision instantaneously. 1 January came and we did the first step. Some self-employed businessmen started worrying: we've been stomped on once again. Nobody stomps on you. It is just the plan we've announced earlier.”
Belarus has come to realize that marketplace selling is a thing of the past when people had to do business, sell things in this way. Such forms of entrepreneurship are not popular in other countries. “Marketplace sellers undertook quite a burden. They kept bringing goods in sacks and bags to sell, provide, and so on. We generated up to 200,000 of them in our country,” the head of state said.
“Some self-employed businessmen (we've taken a look at them) have become much larger bourgeoisie then those, who keep factories and plants running these days. For instance, Amkodor. They are worlds apart if we compare it to self-employed businessmen. We already see imbalance [in support for self-employed businessmen]. They have to work in a civilized manner,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Time has come when the work of self-employed businessmen has to change, the president is convinced. “We've decided that self-employed businessmen have to move one level higher and pay taxes just like all the natural and legal persons do,” he stated.
Then there are also craftsmen, people, who make exceptional products with their hands. And they have the right to sell their goods at any price they can sell them at, Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked. “Those are unique people, whom we should support. We've agreed to leave them alone. But all the other ones have to pay taxes as intended,” he said.
“We will bring it into compliance this year, within several months. Without offending anyone. What you have earned as of today will not be taken away from you, provided you don't break the law, of course,” the head of state stressed.
Aleksandr Lukashenko gave instructions to meet with the self-employed businessmen community and talk to them once again. “They should be treated in a civilized and humane manner. They just need an explanation of how we are going to move them towards civilized trade or manufacturing,” he said. “We have to talk to them. We cannot… When some time comes and they become crazy and will once again take to the streets without understanding while we will have to fight them. We have to forestall such things.”
ROAD WATCH. Why Lukashenko is unhappy and why does he want people to work at night?
The Belarus president mentioned the poor quality of roads in Minsk and made instructions to promptly address the issue. Aleksandr Lukashenko has recently received complaints about the quality of roads. “People complain about the roads, especially in Minsk. But it is a problem everywhere,” he remarked.
The state of roads is naturally affected by difficult climatic conditions, but there are other factors, which can and should be addressed. “People should understand that we have a disgusting winter – we frequently get frosts of minus 20-25 degrees, then rain, and then frosts again,” said the head of state. “Naturally, the asphalt begins to crumble. Clearly, road builders have made a mess somewhere and so on… However, it does not justify what we have in Minsk.”
“Yesterday I instructed the security service and the police to drive along all the roads. The conclusion was not a favorable one. They needed a day to make a conclusion: the state of the roads is bearable, but there is a lot of work to do,” the head of state said.
In this regard, Aleksandr Lukashenko instructed Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Natalya Kochanova and Internal Affairs Minister Ivan Kubrakov to deal with the problem and fix roads. “I was surprised: you have fifty vehicles in the city [Minsk], even more, which are supposed to do pothole repairs during this period. Fifty! With good organization, you can fix up the roads in a day,” the president stressed. “Please, deal with it together with [Minsk Mayor Vladimir] Kukharev and Minsk City Hall. You don't want me to get involved.”
“Natalya Ivanovna [Kochanova], I don't want your reports. Make sure that the next time the security service and the traffic police officers that I will involve can drive by and say: ‘Yes, a lot has been done.' We have to work in that direction,” the president added.
Summing up everything he had said, the head of state stressed: “Issues related to roads and everything that has to do with roads, especially in Minsk and big cities, should be dealt with promptly. But not just go and patch a pothole. No. There should be a plan and a task for the day. You have to work at night when there is no traffic in general, or during the day if the traffic is not heavy. It should be put in order.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko also tasked the local authorities with organizing snow removal from the streets with assistance of local residents. “It is not up to the authorities to remove snow. People should do it. But we have to organize this work. People live in apartments. They will not keep shovels, scrapers in their apartments. We, the authorities, should organize everything,” the president said.
SPRING ARMY DRAFT. When will the army get new recruits?
On 24 January Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko signed decree No.19 “On discharge from active duty, on conscription and recruitment to the reserve force”. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about the document but it will affect fates of thousands of young Belarusian men, their friends and families. Some will stop being soldiers after paying their debt to the Motherland. Some will be drafted to replace them.
The decree provides for drafting male Belarusian citizens, who turn 18 by the day of conscription and who are not entitled to deferment from the draft, in February-May 2023 for active military service and reserve military service. The decree also provides for drafting eligible-age citizens, who have lost the draft deferment right for active military service and reserve military service. The decree provides for drafting first-year students of agriculture universities, who have the right to draft deferment for the sake of continuing their studies but have opted for reserve military service.
The decree is designed to help central government bodies, municipal executive and administrative bodies to recruit conscripts and reservists in a timely manner.
The bill also provides for the discharge from active duty of the military personnel, who have completed the established term of military service.
The Defense Ministry told BelTA, the spring draft campaign will proceed in an orderly fashion within a timeframe specified by the legislation. The sending of the new recruits to their army units will be finished in May 2023.