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‘We need to be closer to Russia’ Lukashenko on his friendship with Putin, Western sanctions, and the Belarusian opposition

Source: Meduza
Rossiya 24

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) has but one friend in the world and, in his own words, that person is Vladimir Putin. Or so he told host Nailya Asker-Zade in a lengthy interview for her program on the state-owned Russian television channel Rossiya-1. Rather than your typical sit-down interview, Asker-Zade’s hour-long segment on Lukashenko included a ride in his Mercedes, a tour of his residence, a trip to a hockey rink, and dinner with the Belarusian president and his youngest son. Here’s what Lukashenko had to say.

While strolling through his residence with Russian TV host Nailya Asker-Zade, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko explained that there’s no start or end to his working day; during “critical periods” he works for days on end. “When the ‘protesters’ walked the streets — there were no days off,” Lukashenko said, referring to the opposition protests that erupted following the contested presidential election in August 2020. Nevertheless, he still finds time to play hockey three times a week. 

On the topic of his relationship with Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko maintained that in politics, he and the Russian President are “on the same team.” Lukashenko even went so far as to call Putin his only friend, acknowledging in the same breath that he has “many opponents.” “We need to be closer to Russia,” he concluded. “But the gas price could be fairer.” 

Alexey Nikolsky / Kremlin Press Service / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Are Putin and Lukashenko really friends?

While Lukashenko insists that he and Putin are on the same team politically, their personal relationship has had its ups and downs over the years. Indeed, during a meeting in February 2016, Lukashenko greeted Putin by calling him the wrong name; addressing him as “dear Dmitry Anatolyevich” instead of Vladimir Vladimirovich (Dmitry Anatolyevich is the first name and patronymic of Russia’s now-former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev). 

During a televised meeting in February 2017, Lukashenko referred to Putin using the nickname “Volodya,” calling him a “dear friend” while simultaneously asking him “not to spoil his evening.”

Lukashenko telling Putin “Volodya, don’t spoil the evening”
Igor Leshovsky

More recently, during an interview with Ukrainian TV host Dmitry Gordon aired on August 6, 2020, Lukashenko called Putin a “man,” a “good athlete,” and an “older brother.” Later that month, he referred to the Russian president as a “good friend.” But apparently, as of January 2021, Putin has been upgraded to his only friend and a “friend of the Belarusian people.” 

In response to widespread allegations of electoral fraud and the violent crackdown on opposition demonstrations during the summer and fall, both the European Union and the United States imposed sanctions against Belarus, blacklisting a total of 88 individuals, including Lukashenko himself. That said, the Belarusian president seems unbothered by this fact. “The Western sanctions aren’t upsetting, I’m used to it. The West’s refusal to recognize the elections results won’t kill me,” he told Akser-Zade.

On the other hand, Lukashenko also said that “we want and will build relations with the United States,” adding “I think they want to too, but if they don’t want to, they will.”

Lukashenko had nothing good to say about his main opponent in last year’s elections, insisting that exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya), “is the voice of those who are financing and directing her, she can’t formulate a basic thought herself.” “Her course is determined by the intelligence service of Lithuania and Poland, and the U.S. is in charge of all of this,” Lukashenko maintained.

Reflecting on his meeting with jailed opposition leaders at a KGB detention center in October 2020, Lukashenko said that he doesn’t regret it, because “I showed that we can have a dialogue.” He also added that Belarus will have a new draft constitution by the end of the year, which the “people will decide” upon in a referendum. 

Back at Lukashenko’s home, Asker-Zade sat down for a meal with the Belarusian president and his youngest son, Nikolai. And Lukashenko offered some insight into their relationship, as well: “My son gives me advice, and not just me. My son has his own point of view. Every day he says: ‘Dad, you’re wrong.’ Sometimes I ask him to shut up, but sometimes I understand that he’s right, especially now.”

Still wanting more? You can watch Alexander Lukashenko’s full interview with Nailya Asker-Zade in Russian here
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The angry and the powerless How the opposition protests in Belarus became a guerilla movement. Liliya Yapparova reports from Minsk.

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The angry and the powerless How the opposition protests in Belarus became a guerilla movement. Liliya Yapparova reports from Minsk.

Interview summary by Alexander Baklanov

Text by Eilish Hart