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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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President Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Ukraine: what would it mean?

On October 3-4, 2019, the Second Forum of the Regions of Ukraine and the Republic of Belarus was held in Zhytomyr. The plenary session was attended by President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky and President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. The main events of the Forum included the 8th meeting of the Ukrainian-Belarusian advisory council on business cooperation and negotiations between representatives of business circles, as well as a meeting of the heads of regions of Ukraine and the Republic of Belarus with the leadership of Zhytomyr region. Within the framework of the Forum, 15 documents on cooperation between the regions and the establishment of partnership at the level of individual cities of Ukraine and Belarus were signed. Considerable interest of participants of the Forum was caused by the exhibition of heavy equipment, fair of products and decorative-applied art of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as forum and exhibition of high technology, robotics, mechatronics and startups.

Within the framework of the plenary session of the Forum, the Executive Program of Scientific, Technical and Innovative Cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Republic of Belarus for 2019-2021 years and the Consultation Plan between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus for 2020-2021 years were signed. An important result of the event was the signing of commercial contracts. According to preliminary estimates, the total amount of contracts concluded at the level of economic entities in Zhytomyr is over 500 million US dollars.

On October 4, a working meeting between President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky and President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko was held. During the meeting, the heads of state in a narrow circle discussed topical issues of the development of Ukrainian-Belarusian relations and concrete steps to intensify cooperation between the two states.[1]

In particular, during the negotiations, the leaders of the countries discussed the state and prospects of development of cooperation between Ukraine and Belarus in various fields. Before the meeting, Lukashenko assured Zelensky that Ukraine will never have problems with Belarus. According to him, Minsk will always be a reliable ally of Kyiv. "All the problems that you and we have, we are experiencing together. I want to assure you that you have never had any problems with the territory of Belarus and you will never have them. We will always be your kindest and most reliable supporters and partners. If the new authority of Ukraine would like to have close brotherly relations with us we won't hold things up," Lukashenko said.

In response, Zelensky assured his colleague that there are no borders between Ukraine and Belarus because of the friendliness and mental closeness of the residents of two countries. "Belarus remains a reliable partner for Ukraine, which helps to achieve peace on the territory of our country. Territories within the borders that are recognized by the world community, where Crimea and Donbas will always be Ukrainian," Zelensky said. Zelensky also assured that the Ukrainian-Belarusian border remains the border of peace and security. "I am glad that our conversation with Lukashenko was frank and very informative. This reaffirms that we understand each other perfectly and there are no closed topics between us. I am personally grateful to President Lukashenko that the Ukrainian-Belarusian border remains the border of peace and security in the conditions of Russian aggression against our state," Zelensky said.

Commenting on the occupation of Donbas by militants, Lukashenko expressed confidence in the peaceful settlement of the conflict, which "will be successful". " Everything will be all right in the East of Ukraine. And the persistence shown by the current President after the end of the war, I am sure, will be crowned with success. I don't just wish you that. We are ready to do something together to ensure that Ukraine is united, integral, powerful, so that no one can even look at cross-eyed here. These are our principles," the head of Belarus added.[2]

Alexander Lukashenko also supported the proposal of Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky to hold a meeting of world leaders in Minsk dedicated to the settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. This was reported by the press service of Lukashenko in an official statement. "Our President absolutely supports the proposals of Volodymyr Zelensky. This position is unchanged and lies in the fact that you can not look at each other through the sight of guns, you need to sit down and solve problems that have accumulated a lot, " the press service of the head of Belarus reported.

The press service reminded Lukashenko's words that the problem of Donbass should be solved by "three Slavic peoples", not by Europeans or Americans."But if it is impossible to solve the problem in this format, and one of the parties to the conflict, in this case Ukraine, insists and offers the participation of other players, we support this format too... Moreover, Alexander Lukashenko has long said about the participation of the United States in the solution of this conflict – it will be difficult to solve this problem without the Americans, they are too immersed in these processes," the statement said. "Well, about the venue of the meeting... there can be no two opinions at all: the war is at our doorstep, and Minsk has always considered and consider it an honor to be a platformit for peace initiatives and negotiations," Lukashenko noted.[3]

Overall, the forum in Zhytomyr can be considered successful. Ukraine, of course, has received its "homework". Those figures (we are talking about half a billion conventional units), which were measured by the adopted and signed agreements, are certainly pleasing.  Moreover, both presidents gave the floor and promised to reach the level of trade turnover between Ukraine and Belarus at the level of 8 (!) billions of dollars.  This is a very powerful result, although there is nothing unattainable in it as both states have so-called regional cooperation only among themselves. Therefore, it is quite possible to achieve the growth of trade turnover. In general, the position of Belarus looks more favorable: our neighbors have more competitive products, since its production uses much cheaper energy than in Ukraine. That is why the increase in trade between the two countries will provide advantages to Belarusian goods. Especially at the beginning of such cooperation, or if we, Ukrainians, will do nothing in the direction of development of own economy. So far, the conclusions are disappointing, but optimism is still not worth losing. It's worth learning the lessons and…working hard![4]

Thus, it is not surprising that the first meeting of the President of Ukraine and the President of Belarus took place at the Second Forum of the Regions, since Belarus primarily considers us as an important economic partner. Nevertheless, Lukashenko is 0nly playing a double game and trying to show himself as a "good guy" who remains in the Ukrainian market and continues to be a true friend of Russia. It's worth mentioning how he closed the border with Ukraine at Putin's request and stopped exporting oil products to Ukraine, did not recognize the annexation of Crimea and provided his territory for the activities of the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) and arrest of Ukrainian citizens and maneuvers of Russian troops to prepare for the invasion to Ukraine. In addition, Alexander Lukashenko wants to receive dividends and be a "peacemaker" in the negotiation process between Russia and Ukraine, and therefore the meeting was not held out of good intentions of the President of Belarus. We should remember that Belarus is a military ally of Russia and not to lose common sense from warm meetings, and therefore remain cautious in relations with the neighboring country.