Lukashenka Defends Futile Causes, Showcases Young Son at the UN
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka went to New York on 26–29 September to attend the world leaders' meetings at the United Nations. The country’s servile state-run media stubbornly called his trip a “working visit to the United States”.
Meanwhile, the sojourn in New York lacked any bilateral dimension. In fact, Lukashenka is still under the United States’ travel ban, and multilateral events remain his only excuse to set foot on the US soil.
While Lukashenka stuck to his traditional criticism of Western policies, his statements at the UN this year were far less confrontational than his speech from the same rostrum ten years ago. The Belarusian leader emphasised several linchpins of Belarus’ multilateral agenda, such as the promotion of 'integration of integrations' and the protection of the traditional family.
However, this visit is likely to be remembered not for these blind-alley initiatives but for his young son’s prominent presence at some official events.
Development Goals Yield to Geopolitics
This was Lukashenka’s fourth trip to New York during his 21 years in office. All of them took place on so-called UN jubilee years (1995, 2000, 2005 and 2015). On these occasions, the UN rostrum provides a unique opportunity for national leaders to bring their positions on global and local issues to the attention of their counterparts and the international community. This year, Alexander Lukashenka had two opportunities to share his world vision.
Speaking at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, the Belarusian leader boasted briefly about Belarus’ achievements in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving 100% adult literacy, promoting gender equality, and drastically reducing maternal and child mortality. He never mentioned the country’s failure to fully achieve three millennium development goals, in particular, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, an area where Belarus has long been receiving substantial international assistance.
The rest of his statement was all about his regrets about the “balance of power that was lost with the disintegration of the Soviet Union”. He routinely denounced “the policy of hegemony and national egoism lead[ing] to wide use of pressure, sanctions, restrictions and military actions” and preached every country’s “right to choose its own development path”.
Lukashenka: The crisis in Ukraine is a 'fratricidal slaughter' and a 'civil war'
Without naming the country, Lukashenka attacked at length the US policy in the Middle East claiming that it had destroyed Iraq and Libya and was bringing destruction to Syria. At the same time, he spared a few words for the issue of “fratricidal slaughter” happening in neighbouring Ukraine. The Belarusian president chose to call this conflict, which the international community sees as inspired and sustained by Russia, a “civil war”.
Belarus’ Foreign Policy Priorities Voiced
Lukashenka’s statement in the general debate at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly started with the traditional complaints about “efforts to impose a certain development model on other countries” as well as “export of 'colour' revolutions and controlled regime change”.
Apart from some general and universally acceptable theses, such as prioritising dialogue over military solutions, Alexander Lukashenka voiced several ideas and initiatives, which are likely to define Belarus’ foreign policy during the next few years.
First, he reiterated the idea of ‘integration of integrations’ as “the most topical trend of the modern world”. For Belarus, this idea relates in the first place to the integration between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union or a “Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, in Vladimir Putin’s terms. Minsk remains enchanted by the verbal beauty of the formula, which, however, stands no realistic chance of implementation.
Second, the Belarusian president denounced “irresponsible social ideas” and “social innovators” who treated someone’s “perverted whims” as a norm thus giving a "green light to social degradation, decay of moral principles and values”. Indeed, during the last few years, Belarus championed the cause of the traditional family rallying countries that rejected same-sex marriages. Belarusian diplomacy has strived to make this initiative as successful as its internationally acclaimed fight against human trafficking. Unfortunately, the battle against the “destruction of the traditional family” looks like a lost cause from its very inception since it failed to gather the support of any Western nation and even the majority of the developing world.
Lukashenka: 'Artificial cult of individual rights and freedoms' is a reason for today's crises
Third, Alexander Lukashenka lambasted the “artificial cult of individual rights and freedoms to the detriment of the collective social interest”, which he sees as a deep-lying root of today’s crises. The president’s recipe against global threats and challenges is an alliance of “strong, responsible and efficient states”. In his view, such states should not be based on the respect of human rights and freedoms, open society, good governance and a market economy, as their application often results in “anarchy, lawlessness and violence”. Rather, their foundation should be stability, a socially oriented economy, “socially nurtured moral values, good traditions of spirituality and culture”, which are ensured by the government’s dominant role in all spheres of public life.
Non-impressive agenda and Kolya in the spotlight
In New York, the Belarusian president met with Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights. The office of the High Commissioner reported nothing about this meeting. Lukashenka’s press service emphasised his ritual denunciation of the politicisation of human rights. However, the very fact of the meeting fits well into the latest trend of Belarus’ dialogue with the international community on human rights issues.
Alexander Lukashenka met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde as well as the leaders of Cuba, Egypt and Ecuador, Belarus’ traditional partners. He also had a very brief standing encounter with the federal president of Austria. Hardly an impressive agenda for a trip lasting several days to the United Nations.
The visit would have gone unnoticed by the international media if it were not for Lukashenka’s decision to showcase his 11-year-old son Kolya at UN official functions. The Guardian ran a story about this fact describing the young boy as Lukashenka’s “preferred successor” and “heir”.
Pictures show Kolya taking the second-best seat on the Belarusian bench in the General Assembly hall, next to foreign minister Vladimir Makei during his father’s speech, as well as posing with Barack and Michelle Obama for a protocol photo. This is an unprecedented breach of protocol for international meetings of this level. Even the Middle East sheikhs refrain from exposing their offspring at similar events.
Despite his commendable efforts to reduce the intensity of confrontation in Belarus’ relations with the West, Lukashenka failed to seize the unique opportunity to bring in one way or the other the topic of Russia’s assertiveness in expanding its domination on the post-Soviet space and the threat to Belarus's independence that it creates. Instead, Kolya’s appearance is likely to be first thing that comes to mind when others recall Lukashenka's visit to the UN.