On 31 March Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko will deliver an annual address to the nation and the parliament. It is a milestone, fundamental event, during which the head of state shapes the strategy for the country's development in the short term. But it also offers a serious analysis of the evolving situation. It may seem that it has been an eternity instead of one year since the previous address in late January 2022 because the world has changed so much since then. On the other hand, nothing fundamentally new happened in Belarus. Only the challenges the country also faced in early 2022 have become stronger. Even then Western “well-wishers” tried to whip Belarus into line: choke it with sanctions, accuse it of all the mortal sins in connection with the refugee crisis, rattle nerves by reinforcing the military potential along Belarus' borders. Things were not calm in the southern direction either. Although Russia launched the special military operation in Ukraine only in late February, the policy of Ukraine's political elite towards Belarus had left no space for hope for normal partnership long before that. In anticipation of the new address by the head of state let's recall several key aspects of the previous one.
The three questions Aleksandr Lukashenko asked citizens represented the key feature of last year's address: “We are accustomed to the Belarusian nation being able to demand from its president… But it is possible that the Belarusian president has the right to ask three pertinent questions from its nation in certain periods of history, particularly troubled periods. The questions that worry the president and our society.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko wondered whether Belarusians were ready to pay for their own defense and for their own state, sovereignty and independence, whether they were ready to be enterprising and work harder for their own selves. Now answers to all these questions are more than obvious. And, presumably, back then it was not only and not so much about payment in monetary terms. After all, we pay taxes that support the army and other state institutions that ensure the security of the society and the country as a whole. Therefore, one's own personal contribution, participation of everyone in the common cause are also important.
For instance, people's militia is being created in Belarus in addition to existing army units to make Fatherland's defense truly nationwide in time of need. People need to know how to handle weapons and need to understand their role in the process of defending their own home and family, their own populated area. It is also a contribution to the common cause in the name of sovereignty and independence. It is a universal approach including agriculture or microchip production, army service or assistance with capturing sabotage units and terrorists.
Even a reverential attitude towards historical memory can be a payment for continued sovereignty and independence as events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Khatyn tragedy demonstrated. Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed in his speech: “Come here more often, bring your children with you, your own children, children of your neighbors, of other people. If we forget the road to Khatyn, everything will happen again. We must avoid it. Life is most precious.”
There are and there can be no minor details in responses to the questions the president asked a year ago particularly since they seem even more topical now.
The first question
“Are you, Belarusians ready to pay for your own defense, for your own state?” was the first question the president asked.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that having no basic weapons and ammunition and being unable to manufacture them while hoping it will be possible to buy them somewhere or receive them as a gift constitute a great risk for Belarus. This is why instructions were given to produce everything the defense of the Fatherland needs. Moreover, Belarus is now mastering the production of cutting-edge weapons, including missiles, with assistance of its allies.
The second question
Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that Belarus citizens are united in their eagerness for sovereignty and independence. But independence literally costs a lot. Defense and security, a financial system of our own, well-developed and effective state institutions are very expensive.
“And I'd like to ask you, esteemed Belarusians the next question: are you ready to pay for this expensive thing called sovereignty and independence?” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The head of state stressed that independence is crucial to the nation's preservation and to the ability to define one's own future. “And we must not surrender this right to anyone,” he stated.
The third question
“Are you ready to be enterprising and work for yourselves?” was the third question Aleksandr Lukashenko asked his fellow Belarusians.
“Are Belarusians ready to truly get loose, to disengage, to set goals for themselves and their family and at least work for themselves? And we will preserve all the rest that is up to the state. And once we tap into this internal potential of our nation, of every Belarusian, we will be twice as rich. It is time to undress and get to work!” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
He noted that Belarus had, has, and will have a market economy with wise involvement of the state in areas where such involvement is unavoidable: “The operation of monopoly enterprises, control over prices, over general inflation, construction of infrastructure, healthcare, education, science, and so on.”
Many of the things the head of state said back then sound like a prophecy. Although it has been already noted that trends were obvious, particularly taking into account the huge degree of Aleksandr Lukashenko's awareness about ongoing processes as well as many years of political experience.
The head of state mentioned the ongoing redivision of the world and the importance of preserving the country in these complicated changing conditions. “I want you to be ready for intensive work, which will allow not only preserving the country amid the new world redivision but building our future and most importantly the future of our country and our kids,” he said. “Today it is clear even to skeptics that the established system of the world order is becoming a thing of the past. In fact, it's already gone. We are witnessing the reformatting of global politics, economy and culture. The level of aggression is dramatically growing everywhere, defiant rhetoric has become the norm, and peacekeeping initiatives are getting shelved.
“No compromise has been found yet. Public opinion is being prepared for the inevitability of war. People are forced to live with this thought. In fact, the future of the mankind is being decided: either new arrangements or further escalation and a new world war,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed back then.
Literally 1.5 months after that presidential address Belarus once again demonstrated its readiness to be a source of security not only in Europe but the world by offering a venue for Russian-Ukrainian talks shortly after the launch of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine.
Unfortunately, military rhetoric still prevails. In fact, a war between Russia and NATO has been unleashed in the territory of Ukraine.
History tends to repeat itself and Europe once again runs the risk of stepping on the same rake at the behest of its overseas “friends”. The first half of the 20th century saw the birth of such a monster as Adolf Hitler in Europe with active participation of American capital among other parties. The consequences are well known to all. Genocide, destruction, long-term economic and political dependence of even strong European countries on Washington.
There is also the example of the Afghan Taliban and the notorious Osama bin Laden, whom the United States supported in the fight against the USSR. And then people from Afghanistan were forced to spend many days in the cold at the border with Poland, trying to find shelter and salvation from those whose allies had shamefully fled their country. So much so that local residents, who believed in Western values and democracy, fell off in droves from the planes taking off and dropped to their deaths.
Now the West led by the United States has nurtured nationalists in Ukraine, stuffed the country with weapons, and is militarizing Poland and Lithuania. And as for who the real organizers and beneficiaries of explosions at the Nord Streams are, smart people in the European Union no longer have doubts. Here's a rhetorical question: who will once again have to sort out all the mess if not Europe itself? But the ultimate goal of the United States is not even Russia. The USA would like to kill several birds with one stone: take Russia out of the global game, further strengthen dependence and manageability of the European Union, and also weaken the growing geopolitical influence of China.
But there are no fools. At least in Russia and China - two powerful countries, which are also strategic allies and partners of Belarus. “You [the West] simply drive us closer to each other! And they will not hold against this front. This is why they are enraged. They understood that they had done everything to unite the mighty resourceful, space and nuclear power that Russia is with the equally mighty, full of human resources, future-oriented nuclear power of China. One can say it is already the world's top power. They have brought them together. This is why they are enraged,” the Belarusian head of state told reporters the other day.
But Aleksandr Lukashenko has repeatedly said that the European Union should seek its fortune not overseas, but in cooperation with resource-rich Russia. But either Uncle Sam's chain is too strong or old Europe is a bit deaf in one ear, the things are a little different for now. And even Americans are already being encouraged to pray amid what's happening. And not just by anyone, but by the ex-president (and possibly future president) Donald Trump. In response to news about the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, he said that this situation had been provoked by American authorities, who were toying with dangerous things. “All I can tell you right now is pray,” the American politician said.
At the same time, in a bid to advance cooperation Belarus and Russia have gone farther in one year than the distance they could not beat over a decade in the past. Joint work in the field of import substitution, Union State programs, military personnel training as part of the Belarusian-Russian regional military force also represent a payment for sovereignty and independence, a contribution to the security of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
It goes beyond commitments within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia or brotherly aid to Russians. Belarus' existential interest is at stake. Let's recall one phrase Aleksandr Lukashenko said during the CSTO summit in Yerevan on 23 November: “I feel that we now share the opinion that if, god forbid, Russia falls, then our place is under these broken pieces.”
WILL THERE BE A WAR?
Aleksandr Lukashenko answered this topical question in his previous address to the nation, too.
“We've gathered in order to sincerely discuss problems of our state and honestly and sincerely answer all the questions. So, will a war happen or not? Yes, it will happen. But only in two cases. If Belarus faces a direct aggression. If a hot war is launched against our Belarus,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “All of us will rise up to defend our lands and our fatherland, including those who don't want to. For centuries our nation has been fighting for our land, independence, and sovereignty. We've received, we've obtained this independence. Today is the moment when we have to defend this independence. And the second case when a war may happen and Belarus may participate in it is if our ally - the Russian Federation - is directly attacked and the same aggression is launched against the Russian Federation territory. Our allied agreements are the foundation of that.”
Speaking about Belarus' participation in Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, Aleksandr Lukashenko had repeatedly stated that the country does participate in it. But in its own way: first and foremost, Belarusians cure and feed people. Not only Russians but also Ukrainians, who are not treated as strangers in Belarus. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have already found their second home in Belarus. Many of them have already been granted Belarusian citizenship.
And, of course, Belarus honors its commitments within the framework of the Union State of Belarus and Russia without fail. Aleksandr Lukashenko's turn of phrase comes to mind: “We will not allow anyone to shoot Russian people in the back!” Belarus' continued efforts to ensure security against rising militarization in the western direction were mentioned. “Poles do what Americans tell them to do… Poles are not dumb people. But who listens to them? Poland is such a totalitarian country,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out Poland's lack of independence in decision-making as he talked to reporters in the WW2 memorial complex Khatyn. “Particularly Poland! A hyena of Europe. Then there are Lithuanians. They and Poles hate each other as well. You know why. So, Americans have brought them together. This belt has been created. They are getting ready to fight against us. Well, they may try.”
“The first question Putin and I will discuss is how we should put them in their place,” Aleksandr Lukashenko added.
At the same time Aleksandr Lukashenko has always pointed out that Belarusians oppose wars. “Things are very bad and terrible during wars. Today's life is totally different than the life in 1941. Back then people's lives were simpler. They didn't have the comfort we enjoy today. If, god forbid, a war happens, then the simplest thing we will have to do is to get out of this comfort and live in terrible conditions and endure all the hardships of the time of war. Who wants that? No one! No one in the world wants that! But leaders of certain countries have forgotten it and have gone totally crazy. They think they will win this war. There will be no victory in this war. All of us will lose! This is why we don't want a war. We've had enough of wars. Our nation lost millions in past wars. We want to live and work in peace,” the president said in the last year's address.
It's a pity that not all the neighboring countries around Belarus share these values. If you want peace, prepare for war, the Belarusian leader has mentioned this piece of ancient wisdom more than once. This is why it is necessary to keep gunpowder dry, train people in military skills, and modernize the army. What Belarus and its president have been doing for nearly three decades now. It is also a payment for sovereignty and independence.