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16 June 2024, 22:59

Upcoming election, anticorruption warm-up, personnel decisions, nothing personal 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.
This week Aleksandr Lukashenko continued advancing cooperation with Russian regions with a productive meeting with the governor of Voronezh Oblast. The parties came to terms on various cooperation matters but on the whole, there are at least as many prospects for cooperation as the number of prospects for cooperation with Irkutsk Oblast that the president has recently visited personally.

The presidents of Belarus and Russia compared notes about a number of matters during a phone call on 12 June. Aleksandr Lukashenko also seized the occasion to congratulate Vladimir Putin on Russia Day.

Other important international partners of Belarus also offered reasons for the president to offer his greetings and congratulations. Aleksandr Lukashenko congratulated China President Xi Jinping and assured him of Minsk’s eagerness to maintain tight cooperation. Congratulation was sent to New Delhi after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured a victory during the parliamentary elections in the country. The Belarusian head of state also congratulated his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on getting reelected. Aleksandr Lukashenko invited Cyril Ramaphosa to visit Minsk for negotiations.

The 23rd anniversary since the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization offered another reason for a presidential congratulation. Belarus intends to become a full member of this organization in a month.

The busy itinerary of the official visit of Speaker of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan Sahiba Gafarova to Minsk contributed to the treasury of Belarus-Azerbaijan relations. Aleksandr Lukashenko met with Sahiba Gafarova in the Palace of Independence.

A new election campaign is about to start: a presidential election is due to take place in Belarus in 2025. Aleksandr Lukashenko discussed the matter with the head of the Central Election Commission. He mentioned a blunder of the self-exiled opposition and gave instructions to organize the forthcoming election decently so that no one would be able to find any faults with it.

The appointment of new ministers, heads of district administrations, a president’s aide, an ambassador, and other people was part of the work schedule as well.

At the end of the week Aleksandr Lukashenko hosted a conference with top officials of the Council of Ministers, during which he touched upon a number of important but routine matters and severely criticized high-ranking corrupt officials, whose actions have come to light recently. The president also warned everyone: “One step off the straight and narrow path and you will face the firing squad!”

Other interesting events happened as well. For instance, the head of state signed a decree to grant citizenship to 244 people. Aleksandr Lukashenko congratulated the staff of the Dinamo National Olympic Stadium on the 90th anniversary since the stadium was opened.

Popularization of the rich cultural legacy, preservation and development of traditions of national art is what the National Festival of Belarusian Songs and Poetry is all about. The president sent greetings to participants and guests of the festival.

Healthcare system workers celebrated their professional holiday on Sunday. “You give confidence in the future to millions of Belarusians, helping babies to be born, coming to the workplace with a sense of absolute readiness to respond to any professional challenge with dignity, and by all means deserve the respect and gratitude of patients who have received qualified help,” the Belarusian leader congratulated them warmly.

COVETED BILLION. How does Belarus intend to double trade with Russia’s Voronezh Oblast?

The work week of the head of state began with a meeting with a delegation of Russia’s Voronezh Oblast led by Governor Alexander Gusev in the Palace of Independence.
Belarus has strong interest in this region because it is one of Russia’s most developed and advanced ones. Considerable sums are being invested in development over there now. This is why considerable opportunities are available for Belarusian goods or specialists, for joint work on various projects. Potential for advancing cooperation is available in microelectronics and aircraft manufacturing, civil engineering, deliveries of machines, vehicles, and equipment, food, manufacturing cooperation, and other areas. Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the parties could work more actively in high-tech areas, including pharmaceutics, biotechnologies, information and communication technologies, energy saving.

A number of important cooperation avenues were sketched out in Minsk a couple of years ago. Agreements were reached on more vigorous cooperation in manufacturing sector, agriculture, and humanitarian affairs. As a result, Voronezh Oblast has become one of Belarus’ most important partners. The trade turnover exceeded $500 million in 2023. “It’s a good result, but we should strive for the coveted billion, as we have agreed. Especially since we have good dynamics this year. The region [Voronezh Oblast] has become the 13th biggest consumer of our imports among Russian regions,” the president said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko identified the key avenues of cooperation where the parties already successfully interact and where potential for further expansion of cooperation is available. “I think the time has come for us to cooperate more closely. Thanks to circumstances we have finally come to realize who is who, who are true friends, and who have simply piggybacked off Russia and our cooperation for many years,” the Belarusian leader noted.

Demand for Belarusian construction workers

This area has always been a leading one in trade relations between Belarus and Voronezh Oblast. Over the past three years the total cost of joint projects in this field has soared 10 times to nearly RUB8.5 billion.

These joint projects include, for instance, industrial construction, in particular, the construction of an enterprise to recycle tires as well as the construction of social facilities. “I am convinced the reconstruction of [Voronezh’s] key sport arena – the Central Trade Unions Stadium by Belarusian construction workers will ensure its inclusion into the category of the Russian Federation’s best,” the head of state added.

Many facilities have been built in the region with assistance of Belarusian specialists, including social infrastructure facilities. A major education center for nearly 3,000 students in Voronezh is one of them.

Alexander Gusev remarked that Belarusian construction workers have earned a good reputation and set an example of how work should be done in many things for their Voronezh colleagues. “Many already steer by the timeframes and quality that Belarusian colleagues manage to achieve,” he said.

Prospects in manufacturing sector

The president suggested adding manufacturing cooperation projects to the trade in broad range of industrial goods.

As far as Belarus-made vehicles, machines, and equipment are concerned, Voronezh Oblast is very familiar with them and uses almost all types of them to a greater or lesser extent. The Belarusian automobile manufacturer MAZ regularly takes part in tenders for selling buses while MTZ, Gomselmash, and Amkodor participate in tenders to sell their agricultural, road and forestry machines and vehicles.

“Yet today the growing demand for machines and vehicles in Russia necessitates preliminary work between manufacturers and consumers. We make a priority of providing high-quality and timely maintenance services, personnel training, supplies of spare parts and consumables. It is impossible to supply machines, vehicles, and equipment to the markets without it,” the head of state emphasized.

The governor agreed it would be a good idea to start interaction on terms of manufacturing cooperation. “We could not only complement each other with some elements of the manufactured equipment, but we may also enter each other’s capital. I think we can consider such forms as well,” Alexander Gusev was convinced.
The parties are in negotiations on setting up multimodal centers for servicing Belarusian machines, vehicles, and equipment, which are used in Voronezh Oblast now. The establishment of small assembly facilities is an option. There is also demand for radio electronics and microelectronics where Belarus has rather good competences.

Aircraft manufacturing is an important prospect. This topic has been recently discussed in detail during Aleksandr Lukashenko’s visit to Irkutsk. Voronezh also has something to offer to Belarus in terms of cooperation. “We have a large enterprise, too. In fact, it is one of the world’s three enterprises that can produce wide-body aircraft. We are now preparing to launch the production of smaller aircraft, including military transport planes. I hope that we will be able to interact here as well,” Alexander Gusev told reporters later on.

Interaction in agribusiness

According to statistics, in 2023 Voronezh Oblast was the 10th biggest importer of Belarusian foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials among regions of the Russian Federation. “We will be glad to see you in the top five in terms of consumption and processing of our products,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

According to the president, Belarusian enterprises and scientific organizations are also ready to share their experience of using new agricultural technologies. They already actively cooperate in seed production. Belarus also offers technologies for dairy farming, including design and construction of dairy complexes, their provision with equipment.

Public utilities

This area is closely related to building housing and keeping it in good shape as well as to providing quality services to the population. “You know that you can borrow not only solutions for organizing work in this sphere from Belarus. We also make machines, vehicles, and equipment for collecting, sorting and processing waste, for water treatment, and wastewater disposal,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted.

NO TOPIC OFF LIMITS. What did Lukashenko discuss with the Azerbaijani parliament speaker?

Less than a month after Aleksandr Lukashenko’s state visit to Azerbaijan Speaker of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan Sahiba Gafarova came to Minsk on an official visit. The visit is significant in many aspects taking into account the good relations Belarus and Azerbaijan have established as well as ambitious agreements that have yet to be implemented, including by MPs on both sides.

The Belarus president warmly welcomed the guest from sunny Azerbaijan on Tuesday, 11 June. Describing the relations between the parliaments of the two countries, the head of state stressed: “They develop very well. This is the case when interparliamentary ties keep up with the level of relations between the leaders of our states.”
According to the head of state, Belarus appreciates the contribution made by Azerbaijanis to the Victory and the liberation of Belarusian lands and remembers their heroic deeds, especially in the year marking the 80th anniversary of the country’s liberation from the Nazis. The president noted that Sahiba Gafarova had also paid tribute of respect to the heroic deeds committed by soldiers during the Great Patriotic War by laying a wreath in Pobedy Square in Minsk. “It is very important and symbolic these days,” the Belarusian leader emphasized. “I am pleased that Azerbaijan and Belarus share the same values.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that he has long-standing friendship with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev since the time when his father Heydar Aliyev was the head of the country. “He was a very shrewd man,” the head of state said. “Ilham is a worthy successor of his father's work. He may have done so much in history that hardly any president after Ilham Heydarovich [Aliyev] will be able to repeat it.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko said he warmly recalls his recent visit to Azerbaijan. During the trip the Belarusian head of state together with Ilham Aliyev went to the territories Azerbaijan is rebuilding in addition to other places. The Belarusian head of state drew attention to the climate and natural beauty of Shusha: “Although I have traveled to many places on our planet, I have not seen such a place anywhere else – clean air, beautiful nature. I am sure that you will accomplish another feat by restoring life in these territories. We will gladly participate in this work. We have identified some directions. There are no obstacles.”

Characterizing the development of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, the president stressed: “Our mutual trade is rather good but it is unbalanced. We need to buy more goods in Azerbaijan.” According to Aleksandr Lukashenko, this issue will be addressed. During the visit of the Belarusian president to Azerbaijan the parties discussed the avenues where they should cooperate more intensively, including the exchange of technologies in agribusiness and the defense industry.

“In short, no topics are off limits. We are ready to work in this direction. I am confident that our MPs will provide legislative foundation for this process,” the Belarusian leader said.

UP TO SNUFF. How does Belarus intend to organize a presidential election?

Chairman of the Belarusian People’s Congress, Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko heard out a report from Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Igor Karpenko on 11 June.

It is interesting that the Belarusian leader had been working as the head of the Belarusian People’s Congress but had not received the relevant identification document yet. Igor Karpenko came to take care of this formality among other things.

“I already work as the chairman, but I don’t have the identification document. What if someone asks me to produce it?” the head of state said as he welcomed the head of Belarus’ election organization agency in his office. In turn, Igor Karpenko presented the Belarusian People’s Congress chairman identification document to Aleksandr Lukashenko and wished him good health and success in service to the Belarusian nation.
Aleksandr Lukashenko and Igor Karpenko had a serious conversation about the presidential election due in 2025 after that. The election is supposed to take place on 20 July 2025 at the latest but the parliament will have to determine a specific date later on.

“If we take a retrospective look at the past elections [the single voting day in February 2024] and at the [upcoming presidential] election we are going to hold, we’ll see we are in the middle of the electoral cycle. Between one election campaign and another one. The time is complicated. But we have passed half of the way quite successfully so far. God willing, things will stay like that till the election,” the head of state said.

He suggested discussing some details concerning the organization of the upcoming election, including the invitation of international observers and voter outreach activities. 
“We will endeavor to organize an impeccable election campaign. As it was in previous years, there is no need for us to put pressure and use administrative leverage. We are capable of holding these elections in an honest and decent manner,” the Belarusian leader stressed. “We need to hold this election decently. Without offending the people. It is the main thing. The election is for the people, for our state. But we shouldn’t offend the people.”

In this regard, the head of state mentioned the recent “elections” held by the self-exiled opposition. He remarked upon the inconsistency of their approaches in assessing actions of Belarusian authorities and their own: “Only 6,000 out of almost 7 million voters took part [in the voting]. They have no problems with that. They consider themselves elected. They have elected a ‘parliament’ and embarked on a journey around all types of cities and towns begging for money. But it is their problems. There is no need to draw parallels here. I am just saying that they accused the authorities of dishonest behavior and of using administrative leverage. What do they call these actions of theirs then?”

Igor Karpenko reported that so-called error correction had been done following the single voting day and a relevant meeting had been held. “Naturally, everything will have been corrected by the next single voting day. I can say with confidence that we do not need to amend the electoral legislation for the upcoming presidential election in any way. It worked well on the [latest] single voting day. We tested and endorsed it. Yes, there were some nuances, but they were related to the uniformity of application [of certain norms]. Those are purely procedural issues that we have regulated,” he said.

PERSONNEL DECISIONS. Who got minister portfolios?

On Thursday, 13 June Aleksandr Lukashenko made a lot of personnel management decisions. Although the position of the head of the Belarus President Administration still remained vacant, a number of other interesting appointments were made on that day.

Two people walked out of the Palace of Independence with minister portfolios. Marat Markov was elevated from the office of the head of the Belarusian TV channel ONT to the position of the information minister. Natalia Pavlyuchenko became the new labor and social protection minister. She is already accustomed to this kind of work since she has been heading this ministry as the first deputy minister up till now. The previous minister Irina Kostevich had previously gone to work in the parliament.

The key personnel decisions also included the new president’s aide, inspector for Minsk Oblast Aleksandr Kokhan, who assumed the office by leaving the position of the head of the Petrikov District administration. “I am going to more frequently visit that region, the Pripyat River area in the near future. It is one of my most favorite places. People over there are good. I started my presidential work from there,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

The experienced administrator Igor Buzovsky became the new rector of the Academy of Public Administration under the Belarus President. The head of state gave instructions to reform the operation of the Academy of Public Administration. The president believes it is high time the academy had been reformed: “Only those, who need to study at the academy, should study there. The people the state needs.”

Sergei Molunov will be the head of the Belarusian embassy in Kyrgyzstan now. Aleksandr Lukashenko gave instructions to determine concrete avenues of cooperation with that country: “We have excellent relations with all senior officials and people of influence in Kyrgyzstan. We need to figure out in what areas we will cooperate with them.”

Since Marat Markov has been pronounced the new information minister, another veteran Igor Lutsky will take his place at the helm of the Belarusian TV channel ONT. “It is good that he has agreed [to the appointment]. The first question was whether Lutsky agrees to it. Yes, they said, he agrees. Well done for agreeing to it. We need it very much. He is now back on his track,” the head of state remarked.

Requirements for the new information minister and for the TV show he had produced

As he appointed Marat Markov the new information minister, the president assigned a number of tasks to him and also told the new minister to keep running the TV show he had been producing for the TV channel ONT.

Marat Markov said that he is ready to stay on the air. Moreover, there were similar precedents in history when a TV program was hosted by ministers.

“The ministry will be your main position. But I will be glad if you can do it and keep hosting your own show. But not to the detriment of your main job,” Aleksandr Lukashenko warned.

Marat Markov agreed with this point of view: “The main job is the key. There are truly many issues with it. Moreover, in the run-up to the election it will be necessary to work on new media as well. And only thanks to the decisions that you have made TV channels have these capabilities. But it is necessary to grow and expand these capabilities.”
The head of state warned the new minister in no uncertain terms that he would be personally responsible for these matters. “You really are an exceptional professional as the deputy head of the Belarus President Administration put it. You will have bigger workload and a bigger responsibility. No need to provide assistance here. You should involve everyone you need in this work. The ONT TV channel, the STV TV channel, and the First TV Channel,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. “Money, finances are the key. You should be in control of it and distribute it thriftily wherever necessary. It is the key thing for me. You will help with organization a bit. And they should also pitch in. [Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Vladimir] Pertsov first of all.”

Returning to the topic of Marat Markov’s TV show, Aleksandr Lukashenko reiterated that he would welcome the minister’s decision to keep it going to no detriment to his new job. At the same time he suggested looking for a decent successor. “We need to prepare solid people. We need decent replacements. Educated and knowledgeable people. You will help a bit. Because you have left an imprint on this program. No matter who will come to replace you, your name will always be associated with it. This is your brand, so to speak,” the president added.

Improvement of the system of privileges and social support

Aleksandr Lukashenko explained why he had decided to appoint Natalia Pavlyuchenko new Labor and Social Protection Minister. Her gender had a part to play in addition to professional qualities: “It would be good to appoint a woman because she is more kind-hearted. And a professional who knows everything.”

“You have to be a good administrator. Things will not be easy,” Aleksandr Lukashenko told Natalia Pavlyuchenko. “But don’t squander preferences and various privileges. From your previous job you know that no money is truly redundant, that it is always necessary to earn money. We have offered so many privileges to our population that some simply sit and wait for some privileges.”

The president noted it is necessary to seriously think about the matter. Support for families with many children is one of the problems. “It is no secret that we have many large families who should not be allowed access to allowances in cash. This money does not reach children as their parents use it on alcohol or other stuff. This is why we need to tailor the system to needs of children from large families. We will continue supporting such families in terms of housing and so on. This is the number one priority for us. It is necessary to put up a barrier to misuse and to establish the criteria to make sure the money reaches children,” the president stressed.

“We need to approach these issues very carefully instead of formally so that the money would reach those who need it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

Key tasks for the municipal power vertical

Aleksandr Lukashenko also approved the appointment of a number of administrators in the municipal power vertical: a new deputy chairperson of the Minsk City Executive Committee, chairpersons of the Baranovichi District Executive Committee, the Malorita District Executive Committee, the Rossony District Executive Committee, and heads of the administrations of Minsk’s Zavodskoi District, Tsentralny District, and Partizansky District.
The president outlined their key tasks, including public outreach, the organization of the harvesting campaign, and the election campaign.

The head of state advised them to streamline personnel management without rush after taking a close look at the personnel potential and while giving a chance to everyone, who already works.

Aleksandr Lukashenko expects the new appointees to show more responsibility and initiative. The key requirement is to produce results. “I guide you and always say: you are the presidents in your own territory. You should organize the process. You should monitor all the processes,” the president stressed.

The head of state drew attention to the observance of human rights: “We do not have any ombudsmen. The president and you, my people on the ground, deal with human rights. We should not create excessive tension in the society. There should be no law violations either.”

The election campaign will soon become an important and responsible area of work for the municipal authorities. “We have already entered the election period,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated. The matter was discussed at the beginning of the week when Chairman of the Central Election Commission Igor Karpenko delivered his report to the president.

“There is no need to expect something new. You were all participants of these elections [during the single voting day],” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “I have always said that we hold elections for ourselves. Do not look around. Everything they [foreign opponents] have taught us all these years after the collapse of the Soviet Union is meant to keep us at hand and in subordination [a dependent, easily manageable state]. Any disobedience means no more money or, what is worse, destruction.”

The head of state reiterated the need to focus on public outreach, communication with labor collectives, and explanation of the situation.

The traditional demand of the head of state to municipal authorities is to keep agriculture in focus and pay the closest attention to it. “It is in your care,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.

The president promised he will closely monitor the state of affairs in agriculture. “We must not lose our harvest. If we have a good harvest, if we have some extra tonnes, we know how to invest this gold and foreign exchange reserve,” the head of state said.

URGENT ISSUES. What did the president confer with the Council of Ministers about?

The organization of regular conferences with top officials of the Council of Ministers to discuss the accumulated important issues is already an established practice. The scope of such meetings is defined only roughly. On the one hand, there are a number of documents and proposals submitted by ministries and government agencies that the head of state needs to decide on. On the other hand, the broad composition of such conferences, to which oblast governors, heads of oversight and law enforcement agencies are also invited, allows discussing virtually any urgent problem. For instance, Aleksandr Lukashenko often takes the opportunity to ask heads of the regions about the state of affairs in agriculture.

This time before moving on to the items on the agenda the head of state drew attention of participants of the conference to facts of corruption among high-ranking officials and gave a strict warning to everyone. We’ll talk about that later. For now let’s recall the items on the agenda of the conference Aleksandr Lukashenko hosted on Friday, 14 June.

Wood pellet manufacturing

Significant pellet production capacities have been created in the country, which made it possible to involve low-grade wood and woodworking waste in production. “That was my urgent request,” the head of state reminded. “We have built plants that turn all of it into wood chips and we get an excellent fuel resource.”

But the head of state criticized the current performance of the wood pellet manufacturing facilities and pellet sales volumes. The president believes the efforts to organize the export of this kind of fuel and use it on the home market are insufficient. Yes, there are objective difficulties in the form of sanctions and the loss of the European Union market. Civil servants cite them to justify the state of affairs. However, Aleksandr Lukashenko is unwilling to accept their reasoning just like that since it is a reason to do nothing for many of them.

And some civil servants may count on natural gas deliveries instead. They believe that the president went and secured a deal to allow Belarusians to burn natural gas and need not firewood or wood pellets.

But after all the head of state insists on not putting all the eggs into one basket. The rule of thumb applies both to export and the diversification of fuel resources, the use of local raw materials. Moreover, considerable investments including state investments and private ones have been poured into wood pellet manufacturing. “Since the manufacturing facilities have been established, they need to work. And in the black. It goes without saying. And emerging problems should be addressed in a comprehensive and persistent manner,” Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded.

It was decided at a previous government conference on industrial matters that all the issues relating to the operation of wood pellet manufacturing facilities should be solved before the new heating season. It is time to compare notes.

Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Piotr Parkhomchik delivered a report on wood pellet manufacturing during the conference. In his words, 67 facilities manufacture wood pellets in Belarus. As many as 60% of them belong to the state and are run by the Forestry Ministry and the Belarusian timber, woodworking, pulp and paper industry concern Bellesbumprom. As many as 40% have no departmental affiliation. Mass construction of these facilities has been prompted by two factors: the need to recycle waste wood as a byproduct of timber sawing and timber processing and by the high demand for wood pellets in the European Union. The capacity of the European market stands at 12.5 million tonnes per annum.

The facilities that have been built in Belarus allow making 1 million tonnes of pellets per annum. 2021 saw 570,000 tonnes of pellets sold to Europe. However, selling pellets on the European market became impossible as of H2 2022. The government continues working to find options for selling wood pellets to other countries and is taking steps to expand the use of the pellets on the domestic market.

Agricultural service enterprises

The operation of agricultural service enterprises was another item on the agenda. There are 134 organizations in Belarus that provide agricultural services, transportation services, repair services, and other kinds of services.

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded how the network of agricultural service enterprises had been restored in Belarus upon his demands: “When the market economy model was adopted, they decided to destroy all of it. I said ‘no’, we should keep it. We still need it today.”
The president remarked that agricultural service enterprises should be used to develop service centers of major Belarusian enterprises. Since similar centers are created abroad in order to offer maintenance to the Belarusian machines and vehicles, which are sold abroad, it would be good idea to have the same capabilities domestically. And in every district at that. The physical infrastructure, specialists, and opportunities are available for it. “So that they would provide services on the spot and you would not depend on crooks, swindlers, and intermediaries to bring you spare parts,” the Belarusian leader remarked.

According to the president, mobile mechanized brigades are in a similar situation. These brigades were very common in the Soviet Union and their potential must be preserved and expanded, especially at the district level. “Bring them back. We need to reclaim 200,000 hectares of land. Who will do this? These inter-district mobile mechanized brigades will,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained. In addition to performing an entire range of services starting with helping the population repair their agricultural tools and ending with bigger tasks concerning land reclamation the mobile mechanized brigades also create additional jobs and employment opportunities in rural areas.

But strict payment discipline is a must, Aleksandr Lukashenko said, because the lead enterprise Belagroservice received unprecedented support in 2019.

In continuation of the conversation about the agricultural sector, the president warned those responsible about the need to make timely payments to farmers and agricultural organizations for the products they supply. “By 1 August 2024 all the debts owed to agricultural producers for meat and milk should be paid off. Take money from crooks and give it to farmers for the products they sell,” the head of state stated.

After the conference Agriculture and Food Minister Sergei Bartosh explained that Belagroservice had accumulated a debt because individual enterprises had failed to make payments for the machines and vehicles they had previously bought. A presidential decree had been adopted earlier to restructure the debt and provide an installment plan but not all the oblasts managed to do it. The president sent the draft of the new document, which was discussed during the government conference, for polishing in order to level the playing field for everyone.

Another decision concerning agricultural service enterprises was made during the conference. The head of state approved the proposal to allow agricultural enterprises to buy spare parts from Belagroservice enterprises as from a single source. It will allow promptly buying the necessary spare parts from Belagroservice without organizing lengthy purchase procedures and tenders.

A satellite communication and broadcasting system

The third important item on the agenda focused on the satellite communication and broadcasting system. The head of state reminded that a communication satellite was launched in 2016 and it has been successfully operating after the ground complex was commissioned.

The president named the project commercialization and its payback the main task right now. “We have launched the satellite not only to use it in our own interests. But even if we use it in our own interests, we have to pay for the satellite,” Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out.

In 2020 the head of state signed an executive order to define the procedure for the fulfillment of financial obligations under the project to develop the national satellite communication and broadcasting system of the Republic of Belarus. The government suggested amending the document. However, the president criticized the possible amendment of the executive order if the adjustment results in additional financial costs. “What does it mean to amend? Money once again. There will be no money. You will fulfill your function as I once instructed you to do by the order,” the head of state said.

Chairman of the State Authority for Military Industry of Belarus Dmitry Pantus made a report on this matter. In his words, the satellite communication and broadcasting system works in accordance with the established procedure, all the technical parameters are normal. “We provide satellite communication services to all the defense, security, and law enforcement agencies of Belarus and more than that. We work together with the Information Ministry on the distribution of public broadcasting channels. This work will be continued in order to increase the commercialization of our national system,” the official told reporters after the conference.

ANTICORRUPTION WARM-UP. What examples did Lukashenko use to discourage civil servants from taking bribes?

It has been previously mentioned that Aleksandr Lukashenko began the conference with top officials of the Council of Ministers by slamming corrupt officials in no uncertain terms.

Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “For starters I have to give you some public information. So that you could imagine how the president’s work day usually starts. Sad but true. I once warned everyone. I am sure that there are people at this table, who have heard me say more than once: ‘It is better to be poor but free than rich but in prison.’ This phrase has really become popular among people in our state.”
He forestalled all possible idle talks and criticism that claim he talks about the fight against corruption once again in the run-up to the presidential election campaign: “I really don’t want to once again be either criticized or reminded that I get back on my anticorruption horse before or during some electoral cycle. Truth be told, smart reporters noticed a long time ago that Lukashenko has been sitting on this horse for a long time already, for about 30 years.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded that he had been the one to chair the country’s first anticorruption commission: “And I haven’t forgotten where I come from. I saw all this injustice. Corruption is the rust on our economy. It causes extreme damage to our state. Not only economic one but also political one.”

The president revealed facts concerning a number of prominent corruption investigations and emphasized that law enforcement agencies do not arrest people for no reason. As for the people in the president’s personnel registry, all the information is reported to the head of state first.

He gets familiar with these reports in the morning. This time his patience seemed to have been exhausted by the arrest of First Deputy Head of Belarusian Railways Piotr Dulub. The Investigative Committee had opened a criminal investigation into his actions. “Money worth over $3.2 million has been seized in hiding spots in an apartment and a countryside home he owns,” the head of state revealed the details.

There is another interesting fact. Coincidentally the head of state received a proposal from the government, which suggested taking the agricultural enterprise Svityaz away from the Baranovichi branch of Belarusian Railways because “the railway has no money to spare.” “If the first deputy [head of Belarusian Railways] invested in this collective farm, it would have no problems,” the Belarusian leader remarked.

On the whole, Aleksandr Lukashenko reminded civil servants (those, who make suggestions, and those, who approve such solutions at the level of regions) that support for the countryside is his unconditional and univocal demand: “Don’t you hear what I say? It is necessary to aid agriculture! We have exhausted its entire supply of workforce. It is necessary to assign collective farms to the railway, to enterprises, and so on. It is necessary for them to invest in agriculture. People will go there and will be pleased to work there. I warn you categorically about the making of decisions.”

Then the head of state mentioned names of a number of people implicated in corruption investigations recently and warned that such actions cannot be kept a secret in Belarus. “I’ve managed to inoculate our nation with the relevant vaccine. Our people don’t tolerate corruption and thievery at all,” the president said.

First Deputy Chairman of the Brest Oblast Executive Committee Valentin Zaichuk is one of the persons being investigated. “An investigation into bribe taking has been going on for half a year,” his immediate superior, Chairman of the Brest Oblast Executive Committee Yuri Shuleiko confirmed. “Comrade President, I have made very many conclusions out of this problem.”

The accused faces charges of getting remuneration in the form of bribes worth thousands of U.S. dollars for making favorable decisions on matters under his purview: land plots, allocation of money, and provision of information about projects to build agricultural facilities and so on.

Another fact: on 26 January 2024 the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into actions of the former deputy energy minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk. “The man worked in the ministry all his life. He retired… In exchange for favorable decisions to choose the Slovenian company RIKO as a contractor for construction, reconstruction, and modernization of high-voltage power substations in Belarus’ territory. So you can modernize this power substation but you have to give me a bribe for it. Tens of thousands of U.S. dollars,” the president revealed the details.

In early February the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal investigation into actions of Pavel Vazhnik, who had run the Minsk-based enterprise Goravtomost and had worked in an executive position as part of the automobile road construction and maintenance enterprise of the Minsk City Executive Committee before that. “He took bribes totaling tens of thousands of U.S. dollars since July 2023,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko continued: “We’ve heard a lot about [former president’s aide for Vitebsk Oblast and former agriculture and food minister Igor] Brylo. I am not going to remind and repeat things. About 30 people face charges now.”

And finally another fact concerns First Deputy Head of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate Dmitry Rybko. “He is a bribe taker through and through. He is serving his time,” the president said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko mentioned not only names of corrupt officials but taking into account their high-ranking positions he asked a logical question of how much their superiors can be trusted. Participants of the government conference were among those superiors.

“I am not going to persuade and ask you anymore. One step off the straight and narrow path and you will face the firing squad. I say it to you publicly. When issues need to be addressed, it is a disaster: I have to identify problems, assign tasks, go and check on things and then get things done instead of you. It is my last conversation with you. Regardless of any election campaigns. I have already talked to you about it. I am not really worried whether you will support me or not. I will come to terms with the Belarusian nation. I will find common ground with it. I’ve been finding common ground with it for three decades. But you should think about with whom you are going to work,” the Belarusian leader warned.
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