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03 March 2024, 19:31

EAEU future, high voter turnout, parliament upgrade, football passions in President’s Week

The work schedule of the Belarus president is always full of events. Aleksandr Lukashenko holds conferences and working meetings on the most topical matters concerning 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 happens to find 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 directives did Aleksandr Lukashenko give to new Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Bakytzhan Sagintayev? Can the experience of the Union State of Belarus and Russia come in handy for the Eurasian Economic Union?

For what did the president thank CIS observers, who did not simply come and looked around?

Who is no longer on the gravy train? After what sport victories will the country be happy? Details of the president’s tuning of football and Belarusian sport as a whole.

What did Aleksandr Lukashenko say about salaries of newly elected MPs? Who should be rewarded and what MPs from the previous parliament should be given jobs? What support is necessary during the transition period?

Find it out in the latest episode of BelTA’s special project President’s Week.

DIRECTIVES FOR THE CHAIRMAN. What does Aleksandr Lukashenko expect EAEU integration to achieve?

On 26 February the president met with Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Bakytzhan Sagintayev.
On 1 February Kazakhstan’s representative took the job after working for 1.5 years as the minister for economy and financial policy of the Eurasian Economic Commission. Before that he had occupied key positions in Kazakhstan’s government, including positions of the head of the presidential administration and the prime minister.

It is one of the reasons why Aleksandr Lukashenko expects Bakytzhan Sagintayev to succeed as the chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission. “You are an experienced man, who has come a long way. Our organization is an economic organization. I know Kazakhstan's principled approach to these matters very well, because I was at the origins of the organization together with [the first president of Kazakhstan] Nursultan Nazarbayev. The current leadership of Kazakhstan is committed to this policy of developing the economic dimension of the Eurasian Economic Union,” the head of state said.

“I think that using your experience and your previous involvement in economic processes, we will be able to accomplish a lot. The key thing is for you to put forward initiatives. Don’t be silent. I think you will be as decisive and will make suggestions about what you see as hindrances in the development of our Eurasian Economic Union,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.

Experience of the Union State of Belarus and Russia

Several associations have appeared in the space of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the course of history. They have different levels and different speeds of integration. The Union State of Belarus and Russia is the most advanced association. It is a catalyst and kind of a large-scale lab for deep integration.

It is followed by the Eurasian Economic Union and the military and political association the Collective Security Treaty Organization. And the Commonwealth of Independent States has the lowest level of integration.

All of them allow partner countries to participate in the integration they are ready to embrace without undertaking excessive commitments. The Belarus president is convinced that the experience of more advanced associations can be used to develop the other ones.

“We and Russia are interested in getting the Eurasian Economic Union to borrow more practices from the Union State, the things that are acceptable for the EAEU,” Aleksandr Lukashenko told Bakytzhan Sagintayev.

According to the head of state, the same applies to the Commonwealth of Independent States: “We are also interested (probably like you are, too) in getting the CIS to follow the example of the Eurasian Economic Union. Well, maybe also the example of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. This is the will of the heads of state, governments and elites of these states. We do not really insist on this process. But, on the other hand, why not?”

Resolution of problems in the Eurasian Economic Union

However, borrowing the best practices for other organizations is not the key matter, the Belarusian leader stressed. After all, the Eurasian Economic Union itself has enough problems that need to be addressed.

“The important thing is that we have a number of economic problems in our economic union that seriously need to be addressed. We would very much like to remove all sorts of barriers that still, unfortunately, exist in our union. And it has to be done during your chairmanship because Kazakhstan itself plays a very important role in the union,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated.

In his words, the countries need to agree on energy matters so that the states would have equal opportunities. “We need common markets for gas and oil. We need to create a common energy market. It is unavoidable. You see how the situation is developing around us, and the very circumstances push us towards tighter cooperation within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union,” the head of state said.

He stressed that solid interstate relations rely on economy: “If there is an economy, then there will be politics, diplomacy, and we will advance military relations. Therefore, we need to set up more joint ventures on the principles of manufacturing cooperation and finance them. You can always count on us. You can also sincerely tell us what we should do. If we totally cannot do something, we will tell you about it sincerely, too. But so far there have been no issues that we would not be able to resolve in terms of development of our union.”

The renewal of the political system

Since Bakytzhan Sagintayev’s arrival coincided with the election process in Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko remarked that elections to municipal councils of deputies and the parliament had proceeded calmly. “You know that we have started accurate renewal of the political system. We see that it has to be done. A generation of politicians is changing. New people, young people are coming. Therefore, we need to prepare in advance, in an evolutionary fashion. This complicated process has begun in our country,” he said.

The president stressed that these elections had been particularly important because the parliament and the municipal councils represent the foundation for forming the Belarusian People’s Congress according to the updated Constitution. The Belarusian People’s Congress has acquired constitutional status in Belarus.

HIGH VOTER TURNOUT. Why did Aleksandr Lukashenko thank CIS observers?

On 26 February Aleksandr Lukashenko also met with Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Sergei Lebedev, who had led the CIS observation mission to the elections in Belarus.

A lot of foreign observers turned up for the elections, including a mission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a number of individual observers from Western Europe. But the president emphasized the activity of the CIS observation mission.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that representatives of the CIS mission had been not only the most active observers, but in fact interested organizers of the elections: “This is why I deemed it necessary to thank you and the CIS mission, your colleagues who came to observe the elections. Thank you very much for the support and assistance you have provided. I emphasize it once again: for the support and assistance with organizing. You did not just come and looked around at how people filled in their ballots. It was truly friendly work of your mission. And we appreciate your work very much.”

The head of state stated that there were a lot of innovations during the current election campaign. For the first time in its sovereign history Belarus held a single voting day. The entire vertical of representative bodies of power starting with rural councils and ending with the parliament was elected at the same time.

Voter activity

“People saw all your statements in mass media. It mobilized people. And you can see what voter turnout we had. Frankly speaking, it was unexpected,” the head of state said.
“A good turnout,” Sergei Lebedev agreed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko went on saying: “I had not even expected that we would have such a turnout at the elections. We had never had such a turnout at local and parliamentary elections. There are enough nuances. Among other things the self-exiled opposition also helped us with their clumsy movements. But the most important thing is that people have come to understand the current moment. They accept and describe it in the right manner.”

According to the CEC, voter turnout at the elections exceeded 73%. It was close to 77% in some regions.

The level of support for the current government

“Based on my experience, we are trying to analyze the course of this campaign. And we see that more than 87% of the population support the current government. These voters definitely support it. There is a small number of people who are on the fence. Naturally, there are also dissatisfied people. We understand it perfectly well. This is why as part of the electoral cycle we need to analyze and draw the relevant conclusions. Some things need to be fixed,” the president said.

“We don’t have many problems of this kind. We will fix them within a year. I am sure that even more people will show up to vote at the presidential election,” the head of state added.

Yet he stated that the opposition will take serious attempts to stir up trouble in the country. “But we are ready for it. We have been very seriously preparing and are ready for the future election that will take place in a year,” the Belarusian leader stated.

PENALTY KICK. How can one fix the state of affairs in Belarusian football and sport as a whole?

On the last day of winter, on 29 February the president hosted a conference to discuss the situation in Belarusian sport. Only a report about the development of Belarusian football was supposed to be presented initially but at the very start Aleksandr Lukashenko expanded the agenda.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Petrishenko, who is in charge of overseeing sport affairs, Sport and Tourism Minister Sergei Kovalchuk, President of the National Olympic Committee Viktor Lukashenko, Chairman of the Belarusian Football Federation Nikolai Sherstnev and a member of the Council of the Republic Dmitry Baskov had been invited to participate in the conference.

“I have invited you to talk about the situation unfolding in our sports community and, above all, in football. The most popular sport, the favorite sport in our country. A sport that can be played at any time of the day in Belarus and in any weather conditions,” the head of state said. “On the whole, if we assess our sport achievements, they are negligible considering the investments and the overall government support for sports.”

Certainly, not everything is bad in Belarusian sport. There are many accomplishments. Sports and Tourism Minister Sergei Kovalchuk reported them during the meeting. For instance, for the first time in many years Belarus has won medals in taekwondo and swimming at major international competitions. Good results have been achieved in wrestling, weightlifting, and track and field athletics.

However, the president stressed that on the whole, these results are insufficient. Particularly taking into account the sport infrastructure that has been created in Belarus.

“We are getting returns [from investments],” the sports and tourism minister replied. “We are nurturing a new generation of talents that are catching up with these athletes...”

“It’s a pity that neither you nor I will live long enough to see this wonderful time,” Aleksandr Lukashenko responded.

Instructions were given for the sport industry to team up with the National Olympic Committee and the federations of every sport to review the system used to train athletes in H1 2024. Close attention should be paid to junior sport, the training process, qualifications of coaches, and selection criteria at various stages of a sport career.

No more gravy train

First of all, the president wants the financial aspect sorted out. Individual teams and clubs demonstrate rather modest sport achievements but the state often acts as their main sponsor. Meanwhile, not only athletes but people that work around them want to earn a lot of money.

“You receive certain preferences. It is necessary to sort out the situation in the near future - in the first quarter [of this year]. No gravy train for anyone anymore. Otherwise, all of you will be stripped of benefits,” Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded.

“Clubs should earn money for their managers and inner circle on their own. They should ask sponsors to give them money. So far, the state is the main sponsor,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Sanctions in sport

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that many “have started wailing” and complaining about sanctions that prevent Belarusian athletes and teams from participating in international events. “What countries can’t you go to? Can’t you go to Russia? It is the strongest country on the planet in sport terms,” the president remarked.
The head of state explained that he closely monitors what is happening to sport in the Russian Federation and sees marked improvements. “The performance of Russian athletes keeps improving all the time. Russian skiers were weaker. Now they are faster! Ice hockey is very good over there. I wish our football was as good as theirs. My main task for our athletes is to beat Russians! Compete with them and come and tell me that you’ve performed better than Russians in all sports! You don’t have to do anything else! The country will be happy then,” Aleksandr Lukashenko formulated one of the key goals for Belarusian athletes.

Hard terms for sport officials

Speaking about the overall current performance in Belarusian sports, the president put it succinctly: “Shameful to watch. Disgusting at times.”

He also pointed out that good results are inconsistent and significant victories are intermittent with mediocre performance.

“The nation doesn’t need such sport. It will get no funding from the budget. I’m afraid even to talk about football. We didn’t even notice some football teams from neighboring countries. What about now?!” the Belarusian leader remarked.

The president set hard terms for everyone: “So, men, if you don’t demonstrate considerable performance improvements in all sports this year, your careers will be at stake! Understand me as you wish.”

TRANSITION PERIOD. What parliamentary affairs does the president want taken care of?

Elections of people’s deputies of all levels took place in Belarus in late February. Now these deputies will have to assume their duties and pass the onboarding process on a timetable specified by the law. No minor details can be disregarded because the deputies are people, citizens of the country just like everyone else. Many of them will have to relocate to a new city and deal with new problems in their daily lives. It is particularly true for members of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

It is also necessary to think about outgoing MPs. They will also have to change their lives and find new jobs. It is important to understand that an absolute majority of them are highly trained professionals, who also acquired valuable experience over the years of working in the parliament.

All these considerations prompted the president to convene a conference on 1 March to discuss the organization of the work of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Vladimir Andreichenko, First Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Maksim Ryzhenkov, Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Olga Chupris, Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives Valery Mitskevich, Chairman of the Central Election Commission Igor Karpenko and Head of the Secretariat of the House of Representatives Andrei Naumovich took part in the conference.

“Six people. Involve whoever you need in this work. People will hear my position today. The parliament, the Belarus President Administration, the government, the Belarus President Property Management Directorate, and other government bodies will join in and operate in the manner you will determine during this period of transition from one convocation of the parliament to another. It is necessary to do everything to make sure that the deputies will begin their work without delay,” said the head of state. “And all of you will also need to help the government form the composition of the Belarusian People’s Congress and organize sessions and conferences of the Congress. Think about what plan it needs, how we are going to arrange the sessions. The Constitution stipulates when the first session is supposed to take place. We must do everything in line with the law. And it is also necessary to think about the matters that we have to look into at the first session of the Belarusian People’s Congress.
“There will be plenty of work for everyone. There is plenty of work,” noted Aleksandr Lukashenko. It is also necessary to help the Central Election Commission deal with routine matters if need be. “He [Chairman of the Central Election Commission Igor Karpenko] does not have a huge team and a lot of people to deal with all the issues,” the president remarked.

First of all, the head of state drew attention to organizational matters relating to the work and life of newly elected and outgoing members of the House of Representatives. These matters included salary, new jobs, elections of new leaders of the House of Representatives, formation of commissions, rewards for outstanding deputies for conscientious work, and providing support with the formation of the Belarusian People’s Congress. All of these matters were in the center of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s attention.

Salaries for MPs

The head of state noted that 25 March is the deadline for newly elected deputies to assume their duties. “This is why I’d like to ask you one thing. All of us need to pay our bills and provide for our families. Let’s agree that till 1 April the newly elected deputies will get salaries depending on their place of residence. And as from 1 April we will pay them the way MPs are supposed to be paid. If any issues arise, let me know and we will make the relevant decision,” the president said.

Helping the new convocation get ready for work

Aleksandr Lukashenko also drew attention to purely organizational matters, including those that he encountered during his term in the parliament: “As a former MP, I know that it is a complicated period. Things are rather hectic and the workload of the secretariat is large.”

This is why the head of state gave an instruction to provide organizational and material support to the head of the secretariat if needed. “So that he could prepare workstations for MPs and hear out their wishes in the end. Well, it is an ordinary routine matter,” the Belarusian leader explained.

He added that he would also instruct the head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate to get involved financially if necessary.

Formation of governing bodies of the House of Representatives

“I’d like to ask all of you to work closely with the parliament for a couple of weeks in order to help MPs get into the groove and prepare and hold the first session of our parliament. Let’s be honest, we need to provide the necessary support to the deputies (if they ask for it) regarding the formation of governing bodies of the House of Representatives,” the president said.

MPs will have to elect the chairman of the House of Representatives, the deputy, heads of commissions. “You should not interfere too much. It is up to the MPs to deal with these matters according to laws and regulations,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Rewarding outgoing MPs

The president also gave an instruction to arrange his traditional meeting with outgoing parliamentarians. “It is necessary to prepare very thoroughly for this meeting. Vladimir Pavlovich [Andreichenko], we must thank and reward those who deserve it,” the head of state remarked. “The rewards should be generous, but selective. Just like we usually do: we need to reward those who worked hard. And many deputies were involved in the work on the Constitution.”

“The parliament was more solid and conscientious than ever. It didn’t create problems for anyone. It worked the way it was supposed to. Therefore, those MPs who deserve it should be rewarded,” added Aleksandr Lukashenko.

New jobs for outgoing MPs

Another important matter was finding new jobs for outgoing MPs. “These are well-trained people. They have passed a very serious school,” the head of state stressed.

“If you need some assistance from me, interference with the employment of outgoing MPs, tell me about it. We will deal with these matters,” the president assured.

REPORT “WITHOUT HEROISM”. What did Aleksandr Lukashenko discuss with the head of the presidential property management directorate?

On 1 March the head of state also received a report from Head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate Yuri Nazarov. The head of state wondered about the operation of the enterprises and organizations run by the property management directorate and primarily about the existing shortcomings. Personnel management was another item on the agenda of the working meeting. “Results in a nutshell. Primarily where things are bad. I know about heroism. But where is it bad? And personnel. You’d suggested we discuss this matter,” the president said.
According to Yuri Nazarov, the overall performance of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate is quite good but once the analysis of the situation went down to individual enterprises, existing shortcomings were unearthed. “We’ve held a review session of the board and sorted out things. We didn’t look at the ‘average temperature in the hospital’ but at individual enterprises,” he said.

After the meeting Yuri Nazarov told reporters that the Belarus President Property Management Directorate can see what individuals underperform and the relevant evaluations had been made. “We will fix the situation. I told the president how we started this year. We started it very well. The only thing that we will keep an eye on now is the export of merchandise and services,” he said.

The official explained that while, for instance, tourism services are doing fine because people keep coming, sanatoriums are in demand, and there is growth dynamics, but there are certain problems with merchandise export. “We know how to resolve them. We may hold an expanded conference in late March and will assign tasks. I think we will fix the situation,” Yuri Nazarov is convinced.

He also noted that if one looks at performance figures over a period of five years, then performance across the Belarus President Property Management Directorate matches previously set targets: “We are keeping up with the export target set for the five-year term. We worked a bit better in the past. We have slowed down a bit now. But due to objective reasons. You know we had to redirect the export of timber products due to sanctions. As for manufacturing, things are more or less fine.”

Personnel matters were also discussed during the working meeting. “We will submit a number of proposals to the president on how to fill vacancies, including executive ones, in our system,” Yuri Nazarov remarked.

The organization of the work of the new convocation of the House of Representatives had been discussed at a conference hosted by the head of state on that day. Taking care of it is a function of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate. Yuri Nazarov assured: “We will do everything necessary to ensure comfortable and normal working conditions.”

Moreover, upon instructions of the head of state there are plans to soon redecorate the right wing of the Government House where MPs work.

CONVERSATION WITH PUTIN. What did the heads of state discuss on Saturday?

On Saturday, 2 March Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko talked to President of Russia Vladimir Putin over the phone. They discussed topical matters of Belarusian-Russian relations, summed up results of previous events and contacts at the top level, including a recent meeting in Kazan and a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Prospects regarding the advancement of bilateral relations were sketched out for the near future.

Apart from that, Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin discussed problems concerning the work of integration bodies – the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and in other formats.

In addition, the presidents discussed the most topical international affairs and the situation in the region, including how the situation may unfold.

The Kremlin press service said that the Russian president had once again congratulated Aleksandr Lukashenko on the successful completion of parliamentary elections and elections of members of municipal councils of deputies on 25 February 2024.
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