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12 April 2023, 16:10

True allies of Belarus. Lukashenko's policy proves right

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko inspects the progress in the construction of the choreographic school on Russky Island in Vladivostok, April 2022
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko inspects the progress in the construction of the choreographic school on Russky Island in Vladivostok, April 2022

Recently many have noticed that Belarus seems to have intensified contacts with Russian regions. They say that the problems in relations with the West force us to look for partners throughout Russia. But this is not remotely true. Belarus began to actively build relations with Russian partners in the 1990s by signing agreements on a community and then a union with Russia. Cooperation started even earlier. At the first referendum in 1995 Belarusians supported the policy towards economic integration with Russia. In a episode we will tell you what unites Belarusians and the Far East, thanks to what or to whom the union of Belarus and Russia was saved in the early 2000s, where Belarusian products are most loved today and which Russian regions Aleksandr Lukashenko dreams of visiting.

We've already mentioned that Belarusians began to build relations with Russian regions back in the 1990s. It is more than economics or politics. Our peoples share history, traditions and values. It's not just about the period of co-existence in the Soviet Union. Some settlements in Russia were founded by Belarusians in the days of the Russian Empire.Indeed, the ties between our regions run very deep.

Artur Karpovich, Head of the Belarusian Embassy Office in Ufa, noted that many residents of Russian regions have roots in the Republic of Belarus, if not in the first generation, then in the second or the third. Therefore they have a warm regard for Belarusians. It is a pity that not mnay young people have visited Belarus.

"The farther people live from the Republic of Belarus, the more they dream of visiting it. In this regard, it is very important to have a direct transport service between Minsk and the capitals of large regions with a population of over 1 million at least. We have submitted a relevant proposal to the Embassy, made an analysis and identified 15 regions with which it will make economic sense to launch direct flights at the initial stage. This will be very good for the economy, for tourism and for bringing our peoples closer together," the diplomat said.

In the second half of the 19th century, Russia launched mass colonization of its Far East. Among the first settlers were immigrants from Belarus. One of the first places where Belarusians settled was the village of Ivanovka in Primorye Territory. It was founded in 1883. Elements of the Belarusian culture still survive there. Among the places with Belarusian roots in Primorye Territory is the village of Lidovka. It was founded by immigrants from the Belarusian city of Lida. By rough estimates about 18% of Belarusians moved to settle in the Far East in the 19th and early 20th centuries.With time, they were assimilated with the neighboring Russian and Ukrainian communities.

For example, the village of Rogachevka in Amur Oblast was founded in 1898 by immigrants from Rogachev District of Mogilev Province. The village of Kostyukovka was founded in 1901 by immigrants from the village of the same name in Mogilev Province. The village of Nizhniye BuzulI was founded in 1909 by immigrants from Belarus. In Belarusian "buzuI" means "wanderers looking for a new place". The village of Petrovichi, for example, was set up by two brothers who had a falling out with their parents and left home with only two axes. They began to cut wood and build houses in a new place. This is how the village came into being. They decided to name it after the village back home.

Whole villages uprooted themselves and headed to new places. It took the first settlers two years to reach the Far East. On their way they collected fodder for cattle that they took with them. Children were born during the journey. Chief guides rode ahead and showed the way.

Even more active colonization of the Far East began after the Russian-Japanese War following Pyotr Stolypin's reforms. These processes received the name of ‘Stolypin's resettlement'. This resettlement policy continued into the Soviet period.

"Primorye Territory is a long-standing and promising partner of Belarus in the Far East. I say this on every occasion and I am convinced that you understand this position of mine: Vladivostok is far away, but these people are our kin. Our Fatherland still stretches from Brest to Vladivostok. No matter what some people may say, this is our Fatherland. There are sovereign, independent states on this vast territory now, the history has taken such a turn, but this remains our land,” the Belarusian president said.

Why is Belarus interested in the Far East today?

The Far Eastern Federal District is the most remote region of the Russian Federation. It includes Primorye Territory, Kamchatka Territory and Khabarovsk Territory, Amur Oblast, Magadan Oblast, Sakhalin Oblast and Jewish Autonomous Regions, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. The district shares borders with the DPRK, Japan, the United States and China.

In 2018, the first agro-town in the history of the island was built on Sakhalin according to the Belarusian project. Then nine families received the keys to apartments in new houses on Belorusskaya Street from the hands of Governor Oleg Kozhemyako. “It was one of the largest projects of modern rural housing construction in Sakhalin Oblast. Also, a livestock farm was built for a thousand head. It became one of the largest in the agricultural sector in the Far East," said Aleksei Sergushkov, counselor of the Belarusian Embassy Office in Vladivostok.

Belarus' major exports to the Far East include trucks, defense and security goods, equipment and devices for filtering liquids, cheese and cottage cheese, butter, milk and cream, construction parts made of plastics, aluminum profiles and bars. Belarusian food products are especially popular among locals.

Since 2023, Belarus has started supply household appliances made by Atlant, Vityaz, Gefest to Primory Territory. The Far Eastern Auto Center, the long-standing partner of MTZ and MAZ, is actively working to build a single center for demonstration and sale of Belarusian-made equipment. A significant part of the work on the site allocated by the regional authorities has already been completed. There are all the prerequisites that it will come on stream ahead of schedule. "This project is being implemented following the instructions of the Belarusian president and the governor of Primorye Territory. Work to supply a very large batch of new equipment from Belarus to Primorye in 2023 is on the home stretch," Aleksei Sergushkov said.

By the way, Brest and Vladivostok have many things in common. One is located on the western border of the Union State, the other - on the eastern one. The cities have heroic fortresses designed by Soviet scientist, military engineer Dmitry Karbyshev. "Yet, Vladivostok does not have a single sister city in Belarus. This summer, the thousand-year-old Brest can twin with the 163-year-old Vladivostok, and Brest Oblast and Primorye Territory can become partners in various areas of cooperation, including trade and economic," Aleksei Sergushkov noted.

What helped preserve the union of Belarus and Russia

In the early 2000s, the union of Belarus and Russia had many opponents among the Russian elite. It was interregional cooperation that saved the relations between the two countries at that time. Realizing this, Aleksandr Lukashenko began to actively develop direct contacts with Russian regions and regional authorities. By the way, they had more power back then. The president said that Belarus and Russia managed to maintain the highest level of relations only thanks to the efforts of the Russian governors. Today citizens of Belarus and Russia have equal rights in terms of labor, recreation, healthcare and education. No other post-Soviet states can boast a similar example of care for people living in different states and connected by kinship ties.

Aleksandr Lukashenko visits Belgorod Oblast, May 1995
Aleksandr Lukashenko visits Belgorod Oblast, May 1995

“I am always grateful to the regions of Russia. Our Belarusian-Russian relations were saved only thanks to regions of Russia back then. If we had not cooperated with them then, it would have been very difficult for us to maintain the relations we had as part of the Soviet Union. There were the hardest times after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” the head of state said.

Belarus maintains close contacts with more than 70 regions of Russia: from Smolensk to Sakhalin. There are agreements on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation. As part of interregional cooperation, there are about 450 agreements between regions of Belarus and Russia and between Belarusian districts, cities and Russian municipalities. Every year Minsk hosts about two dozen delegations headed by Russian governors.

“We have brought a large delegation from Tatarstan - 75 people, 30 companies. Our presidents have instructed us to ensure technological sovereignty, independence of our countries from the West and from the East. Our task is to mobilize all forces for the production of equipment, chemical industry, small tonnage chemical sector, aircraft building, and shipbuilding. We need to be completely independent,” Oleg Korobchenko, Tatarstan's Deputy Prime Minister - Minister of Industry and Trade, said.

Oleg Korobchenko
Oleg Korobchenko

According to Victor Shchetko, Head of the Belarusian Embassy Office in Kazan, Belarus-Tatarstan trade has consistently exceeded $1 billion in recent years. MTZ-TATARSTAN, a 100% subsidiary of MTZ, is one of the significant projects implemented in Tatarstan today. The company is involved in the assembling of Minsk tractors. “There is a project to develop a gas engine between the Minsk Motor Plant and the Tatarstan company Elabuga RARITEK. This engine will be fitted on MTZ tractors. Prototypes have been produced and are in trial operation on the fields of Tatarstan,” Viktor Shchetko said.

Another promising project is in aircraft construction. Minsk Civil Aviation Plant No.407 plans to produce component parts for Kazan Aviation Plant.

“These sanctions came too late. They should have been imposed five years ago. We would have already been producing everything we need. If these sanctions last for another 5 to 10 years, I think everything will be fine in Belarus and Russia. We will do everything ourselves and we will achieve technological sovereignty,” Oleg Korobchenko said.

What Russian regions are among Belarus' top partners

The top ten importers of Belarusian goods in 2022 included the Moscow Oblast and the city of Moscow, Smolensk Oblast, St. Petersburg, Bryansk Oblast, the Republic of Tatarstan, Rostov Oblast, Kemerovo Oblast, Leningrad Oblast and Sverdlovsk Oblast. They accounted for almost 73% of Belarusian exports to Russia.

“There are no important, secondary, close or remote regions of Russia for Belarus. If Smolensk Oblast, Bryansk Oblast, or Pskov Oblast are close, it doesn't mean that they are more important for us while Astrakhan Oblast is secondary. Contrariwise, the farther they are, the more important it is for us to be together, be close to each other, and be able to cooperate. Any region [of the Russian Federation], Russian citizens, Russian people are our kin people. If we can help with something in agriculture, we will. We will give away the last grain, the super elite grain only to make things better for you,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Interregional cooperation is a two-way road. The regions of Belarus and Russia complement each other well here, Artur Karpovich, Head of the Belarusian Embassy Office in Ufa, pointed out.

“Each region has its own identity and its own interests in the Republic of Belarus. Samara Oblast differs a lot from the Republic of Kalmykia. But we cannot say that the cooperation with the Republic of Kalmykia is less important for the Republic of Belarus. Astrakhan Oblast and the Republic of Kalmykia have access to the Caspian Sea. For them the Republic of Belarus is interesting as a partner in terms of development of port infrastructure, transshipment of Belarusian cargo through the ports. Belarusian goods are in demand there. Our equipment is needed there. Belarusian elevators are in service in the regions. We are planning to provide construction services to Astrakhan Oblast in the future,” he said.

What Russian regions Aleksandr Lukashenko is dreaming of visiting

Aleksandr Lukashenko have visited the farthest regions of Russia. For example, in the winter of 1998, he, returning from the Winter Olympics in Japan's Nagano, visited Vladivostok, the capital of Primorye Territory. Then the president took a tour around the city, laid a wreath at the Eternal Flame in the Combat Glory of the Pacific Fleet memorial complex. He had a meeting with cadets and teachers of the Far Eastern State Maritime Academy. In the evening, Vladivostok gave an official reception in honor of the Belarusian leader. The following morning, the president flew to Novosibirsk.

24 years on, in 2022, Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Primorye Territory again. If his previous visit there was rather symbolic, like the first brick in the foundation of future cooperation, this time agreements were reached in many areas. From mutual trade to the establishment of a Belarusian maintenance center in Vladivostok and to participation of specialists in the city development programs.

After the talks, Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Russky Island to see the construction of a multifunctional cultural and educational center. Belarusian specialists are also involved in this project. The president was informed that 44 specialists from Belarus were working at the site. There are plans to send another 50 specialists there by the end of April and 50 more by mid-May.

“I dreamed of visiting Sakhalin when Oleg Nikolayevich [Kozhemyako] was the governor there. We may visit it together one day, and you will recall the old days. It would be great to visit Kamchatka Peninsula, the city of Magadan, Chukotka, and Lake Baikal. They are of great interest for me. I can imagine the rest more or less well. Over the years of my presidency I have traveled the world and can state that Russia is a unique place,” the head of state said.

Belarus and Russia have shown the whole world what integration from Brest to Vladivostok means. Sometimes they spin this idea that Belarus will be made part of Russia. Aleksandr Lukashenko, however, logically objects: why not vice versa? But on a more serious note one thing is clear: Belarus and Russia can teach integration even the European Union.

“I say: Putin and I are smart enough not to act in the old way. We will build such a unity of the two independent states that they will be learning from us. They will learn from us how to overcome sanctions, and so on,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

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