Belarus President, Alexander Lukashenko, who is paying his first official visit to Georgia, said that he considers Georgia as “a friendly country”, whom Minsk has “never let down even in the most difficult times.”
Lukashenko, who arrived in Tbilisi on Wednesday evening and will also travel to Batumi during the visit, met on Thursday morning his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili and then PM Irakli Garibashvili.
“Dear Giorgi, we should have met each other in this legendary city, this legendary country much earlier,” Lukashenko told his Georgian counterpart during his opening remarks for the press in the beginning of the meeting, which lasted for hour and a half.
“I told you already that it is shame I have never been in Tbilisi before; actually I’ve never been in Georgia, except of Sukhumi [in Abkhazia] – that was in the Soviet era,” Lukashenko said.
“In politics we have no disagreements whatsoever. I am grateful both to the former president [Mikheil Saakashvili] and you for supporting us everywhere, in the West,” Lukashenko added.
Asked during a press conference after the meeting about Russia’s recent “alliance” treaties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and if Belarus will remain committed to non-recognition of these breakaway regions, Lukashenko responded: “Our position about those problems remains unchanged; otherwise I would not have arrived here.”
“After the war between Georgia and Russia relations should have been built more softly, not making such steps, which you have mentioned [apparently referring to “alliance” treaties],” Lukashenko said.
“We, together with [the Georgian] President, are realists and we have agreed to draw a line and see what happens tomorrow, what can be done to normalize relations between Georgia, Belarus, also with Russia,” he said.
“I think that in the near future we will find at least one answer to a small question – what kind of step to take in order not only to stop this rhetoric, but also to get positions of the states closer and to live in one family as it once was. There is no conflict between peoples of Georgia, Belarus, Russia. Misunderstandings on the political level can be overcome, but we should set concrete tasks and make concrete steps,” the Belarus President said.
“We spoke about it, but I am not authorized by the [Georgian] President to unveil our agreements, but in the nearest future you will hear about them,” Lukashenko added.
These remarks by Lukashenko on which he did not elaborate triggered questions if he was somehow intending to act or already acting as a mediator or offering to host high-level talks between Georgia and Russia in Minsk.
Georgian President’s foreign policy adviser Tengiz Pkhaladze said speculation on mediation or high-level talks is “pointless” if there is “no political will to take concrete steps towards de-occupation, return of displaced persons, retraction of recognition [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] or for any other step which Georgia can benefit from.”
Speaking at the joint news conference after the meeting, President Margvelashvili thanked Belarus for supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity.
“We stressed our appreciation which the Georgian state and the Georgian people have towards Belarus and personally towards Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] for their support towards the issues, which are very acute for Georgia – in a very difficult circumstances our Belarusian friends have always been unambiguously supportive towards our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” the Georgian President said.
He also noted “important role, which our Belarusian friends play” in trying to resolve conflict in Ukraine peacefully.
“Minsk has become the city where agreements are being actually reached for peace and stability in the region. In this context we of course touched upon the problem in Ukraine and the positive impulse, which was given by Minsk to the Ukrainian people and to the entire region,” Margvelashvili said.
He also said that this visit of the Belarus President “will lay a significant foundation for further deepening our relations and broadening of our cooperation.”
“Although Georgia’s economic relations are deepening with the EU and economic ties of Belarus are deepening with the Customs Union, we deeply believe that this development should in no way restrict our bilateral relations, but on the contrary it should give new potential to Georgian and Belarusian economies,” Margvelashvili said.
Commenting on the same issue, Lukashenko said: “We have to use with maximum benefit Belarus’ participation in Eurasian Economic Union and implementation by Georgia of the Association Agreement with the EU. Reasonable people will always find ways for cooperation even in the most difficult times.”
“Although Georgia quit the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States], Belarus and Georgia maintained free trade regime and we have never let you down even in the most difficult times,” the Belarus President said.
He said that the current level of economic and trade relations between the two countries are far from its actual potential and “a significant part” of talks were dedicated to this issue.
Lukashenko said that the Georgian-Belarus business forum, which was held in Tbilisi on April 22, led to significant agreements, which has the potential to boost bilateral trade between the two countries to USD 200 million annually.
Bilateral trade turnover between Georgia and Belarus stood at USD 55.9 million in 2014, according to the Georgian state statistics office.
He said that it was agreed to make focus on setting up of joint ventures.
“Just to trade is easy, but setting up of joint ventures either in Belarus or in Georgia to produce goods and to then sell them on the global markets is more difficult, but it’s realistic,” Lukashenko said.
Belarus Agriculture Minister Leonid Zayats and Minister of Industry Vitaly Vovk met Georgian Agriculture Minister Otar Danelia in Tbilisi on April 22 and discussed a memorandum on fostering setting up of joint ventures in the agriculture sector.
Number of Belarus ministers, accompanying Lukashenko, signed with their Georgian counterparts about dozen of agreements and memorandums on cooperation in the areas ranging from fighting crime, customs issues to healthcare, education and agriculture.
“I am absolutely convinced that if our governments work efficiently and if our agreements are implemented, believe me contribution of Belarus in development of Georgia will be indisputable, it will be obvious. We want to make it for our… brothers with whom we lived in same home and we should not forget about it,” Lukashenko said.
“Belarus unwaveringly considers Georgia as a friendly country, which is very close to us. Development of our political and economic relations is in the interests of the both countries,” he said.
Lukashenko said that the two countries have “constructive cooperation” on various international forums, including in frames of OSCE and EU’s Eastern Partnership.
Opening of Belarus embassy in Tbilisi was also discussed, Lukashenko said. Georgia opened its embassy in Minsk in 2007.
President Margvelashvili said he believes that the Belarus President’s visit will mark “the beginning of very active and efficient cooperation.”
After the meeting the two presidents signed a joint statement, which reiterates readiness of the two countries to boost ties in broad range of areas.