CNN’s Matthew Chance had an exclusive interview with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Here is a translated transcript.
CNN: Mr President, thank you so much for joining us here on CNN. You’ve been accused of overseeing a brutal crackdown on your political opponents since the election last year. Thousands of people delayed. Some of them according to human rights groups suffering human rights abuse inside prison facilities, people have been killed. Would you take this opportunity now to apologize to the people of Belarus for the human rights abuses that they suffered at your hands?
Alexander Lukashenko: No, I would not like to take this opportunity. If I ever would, I would do that through the Belarusian media. They are quite good here. What would be the point of doing it on CNN? I don’t think this is even a relevant question, and in principle I have nothing to apologize for, and the latest events in Belarus happen to confirm my point.
CNN: You say you have nothing to apologize for, but Human Rights Watch says multiple detainees have reported broken bones, broken teeth, brain injuries, skin wounds, electrical burns. Amnesty International speaks of detention centres becoming torture chambers where protestors were forced to lie in the dirt, stripped naked, while police kicked and beat them with truncheons. You don’t think this is worth apologising for?
Lukashenko: You know, we don’t have a single detention center, as you say, like Guantanamo, or those bases that the United States and your country created in Eastern Europe. So I think if you take this into account - one learns by comparison, hence my answer to your question - I don’t think you will come out looking any better. As regards our own detention centers, where we keep those accused or those under investigation, they are no worse than in Britain or the United States. I can guarantee you that. You talk about certain human rights organizations, well, we have seen these human rights organizations in action. Well, you are man and a journalist who knows the trouble spots very well. I am well aware of your biography in journalism. You’ve been around. So human rights organizations, if my memory serves me right, they all accused Syrians, Russians and others of using biological weapons. You even showed this, then it turned out to be a case of video manipulation. And yet, human rights organizations were involved. So maybe in Belarus, too, you are being prompted by these human rights organizations. That’s why I suggest you discuss concrete facts, and not the views or statements of some dubious human rights organizations.
CNN: I don’t think Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are dubious. They’re internationally recognised, you know, standards of human rights activism. And they’ve all got testimony of former detainees in your prison camps, in your prison detention centres. Both men and women who’ve spoken of sexual violence against them, including rape and threats of rape. Are you saying that is just made up? That it’s fake?
Lukashenko: Everything that you’ve just said is fake and fantasy. I guarantee you it’s fake and fantasy. If you like, we can take a concrete fact involving so-called sexual violence and we can investigate it in your presence. And once we’ve investigated, you will see the true worth of your human rights organizations and the statements you’ve copied from the internet. Look, this simply isn’t appropriate. For a channel like CNN, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t appropriate to quote all kinds of lies from the internet. Someone must have wanted you to do this, that’s why I wouldn’t advise you repeating it all. What was the other question? At the beginning? Well, as regards human rights standards, please give me these standards. These standards were made up by you in the West and you want the whole world to bend to these standards. Rest assured, you won’t succeed, just as with the election standards. There are no standards. We, together with Russia, said let us develop election evaluation standards as part of OSCE, you didn’t agree because you have your own standards. And it is the same with human rights. And one more thing, because as I said, one learns by comparison. We have never shot point-blank at a single opposition campaigner or even a radical. But you showed on CNN recently a young lady shot in the US Congress, a hero of the United States. Is that not human rights abuse? But you keep quiet about it.
CNN: There are multiple incidents being reported of protestors being killed. At least four people according to Human Rights groups. There is a case of Vitold Ashurak, a 50-year-old opposition activist in this country whose name you may know, who died in custody apparently of a heart attack. Although his family say he has no history of heart disease, but his body was covered in bruises. So there’s plenty of evidence out there of the brutality of your regime. What isn’t fake is the atmosphere of fear that is definitely existing on the streets of this city. I’ve been out myself in Minsk, trying to ask people what they think of you, and no one was willing to answer. They’re too frightened, they said they didn’t want to go to prison. That’s the kind of country you preside over, that’s the atmosphere of fear.
Lukashenko: Well it looks like you’ve come here to accuse me of something, but I won’t hold it against you, you must have been given this assignment. Let’s start from the end. You were walking around Minsk asking people questions. Did you say who you are?
CNN: Of course
Lukashenko: Did you introduce yourself to the people you were interviewing?
CNN: Of course I did, of course I told people we’re from CNN. We don’t try and dupe people into speaking to us.
Lukashenko: So you said you were from CNN, and people - maybe an overwhelming majority - did not want to talk to you in Minsk? Right?
CNN: Who I spoke to?
Lukashenko: Yes. So to answer your question, people in Minsk are very intelligent, wise, talented and educated. They know what CNN stands for. There was a CNN journalist recently at the Big Conversation with the President - she was present there, right? She was. And we showed it live on TV, what the CNN position is. So in Minsk, people know very well that your channel is biased, and they simply didn’t want to talk to you about it, because they knew that you were going to distort anything they said anyway. So I’m sorry, but that is a fact. And the fact that the people of Minsk didn’t want to talk to you - look, that’s your problem. You are a journalist, a talented person, you should have got them to open up. You didn’t succeed. What’s that to do with me? That’s not my fault. If you asked for my help, I would have helped you. But you didn’t ask me for it. What was the other thing?
Lukashenko: An atmosphere of fear. That is a lie, Mathew. You’re lying. I’m sorry. You’ve walked around Minsk, without security guards. Nobody accompanied you. And I don’t see any fear in your eyes today. So what have our people got to fear? You see, the main thing about our country’s image, our special thing so to speak, is that our people don’t need to fear walking around, be it day or night, going out with young children, even babies in prams, and that is our own achievement. And I am ready to stand up for it at any level with anybody. I don’t believe that you were you had anything to fear in Minsk, I just don’t believe it. This is a lie CNN concocted in advance, or maybe somebody had you do it. That’s why I completely reject the notion that people walk around trembling. One minute, what was the other thing?
CNN: Alright, I hear that but let’s move on. Let’s move on to the next subject.
Lukashenko: The dead. You said four people died as a result of protest actions, please say their names. Yesterday…
CNN: I can tell you where and when they died. The 11th of August one protestor was killed when police fired stunt grenades and tear gas into a crowd in Minsk. August the 12th 25-yeard-old man died in custody after police used live ammunition against protestors. The 9th of August, a protestor was run over by a police vehicle, that was caught on video. Do you not know their names?
Lukashenko: That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I know that, on the barricades on the eighth or ninth of August, when those people controlled from abroad attacked our police force, and so special equipment was used. One person raised a stun grenade and tried to throw it at the police. He was injured, I know of that incident. But it wasn’t the case of the police - or as we say, militia - going somewhere to find and kill this person. That’s not what happened. He came to kill them. He’s an ex-con, by the way, pardoned by me. Just so you know, I pardoned him, and he went to the barricades with knives, and tried to throw a grenade at the police. In return, he got an injury. And that is what I know. Everything else, well, you can hang anything on this period - some died of COVID, some died of asthma, some had cancer and died. And our protesters put all of them on the same list. Then you read the list and were pleased because it was what you needed. So there is no need to list these people. I would advise that you get to the bottom of it, and if you need help, we will help. There is no need to throw everything into the same pile. These four deaths never happened.
CNN: Nevertheless, the violence over that period has left you in the eyes of much of the international community as an international pariah. Your main opposition figure in this country Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is regarded, in many international circles, as the true winner of the election last year and the elected leader, properly, of Belarus. Even the president Biden have met her in the White House, you have not been invited to the White House, have you?
Lukashenko: One thing at a time. The female persona - I’m not going to discuss her. I don’t fight with women. And I don’t want to characterize her in any way. As regards opposition leadership. I hope I will always have the same view as I do now. The leader of the opposition is someone who lives in this country and has a different point of view. As they express it, they campaign to bring this alternative view to fruition. There are no such people as you describe them in Belarus. They are somewhere over there on your side, paid by you.
CNN: No, they fled the country because they are frightened of staying here. The people who have stayed have been imprisoned, put in jail for like 10 and 11 years because of their opposition activities and you know that’s the case.
Lukashenko: Look, if one is a revolutionary and they got themselves involved in a revolution, moreover, tried to win a blitzkrieg here with foreign money - there were such people here. Well, they need to be prepared for anything. Isn’t that the way history works? But if you wanted to make money on this or hype it up as they say these days, well that’s a different issue. Tikhanovskaya - Matthew, I swear by my children that Tikhanovskaya was not fleeing anywhere. She asked me to take her to the Lithuanian border, not only her but a few other people too, which is what I did. So she didn’t flee. Do you want proof? We can give you proof. This is yet another fake. He who has got himself involved in a revolution should go all the way. He knows what a revolution is and what the consequences are. But if they flee, they are fraudsters who wanted to make money on this, which is what they did. And the latest events are proof of this. So you are either misinformed or you are trying to misinform your viewers and listeners.
CNN: On the subject of misinformation… on the subject of misinformation, let’s move on..
Lukashenko: Wait, Matthew, wait a minute. One final thing so can finish on this subject. You are trying to accuse me of something, but let me give you some facts about human rights. You recently delivered a strike on Afghanistan on suspicion of terrorism, and you hit a family,12 children died.
CNN: We are not talking about United States, we are talking Belarus, not the United States. We haven’t got time to talk about the United States. Let me ask you this question, in May this year a passenger airliner was ordered to land in Minsk because what was said to be a terrorist threat on board. On ground, a Belarussian dissident, was arrested along with his girlfriend. Do you continue to insist that was a genuine bomb threat? Or do you now admit that the whole incident was manufactured by you and your security forces in order to capture the critic that you wanted in jail?
Lukashenko: Matthew, I am not going to admit to anything in front of you. I am not under investigation. So please choose your words carefully. As regards your comment, before I answer this question, I wasn’t the one to start talking about the United States. You asked me how I would react to the fact that a certain person met Biden in America, that is, the US president. You started talking about it. That’s why I mentioned America as we talk about human rights. You killed 12 children in Afghanistan. You killed 12 children in Afghanistan. Did you see those people clinging on to the chassis and dying in Kabul? You spent 20 years killing people there. So please calm down about deaths and dying and so on.
CNN: I didn’t mean to reprimand you, I just wanted us to move on a different subject.
Lukashenko: Now as to the flight. Recently, ICAO, an international organization, finally sent their inspectors here, we have been waiting for two or three months for this. They are yet to publish the results. So what are your grounds for your accusations? Do you have some other facts? We have put our facts on the table, and we have shown what happened. if you want to know about the detainee…
CNN: The only information I have is the information you put out publicly, which is that you received a fax from a location in Switzerland apparently from a Palestinian militant group Hamaz, that said there was a bomb on board the plane and you notified the aircraft and it took the decision to land at which point you arrested Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, the Belarussian dissident and his girlfriend, and took them into custody, they are still in jail now. Are you telling me that, you believe that was a real bomb threat or did you manufacture it to grab that critic to get him into prison here?
Lukashenko: I said recently, but if this had been a premeditated action planned by our security services, if this were true, you would be flattering me, because for security services to carry out such an operation without breaking a single international law or even instruction, well that would have cost a lot. I can’t say that our secret services, or even your secret services would be prepared to conduct such an operation. So, this is your fantasy. If you want the truth, just ask ICAO. They conducted an investigation. We know their view, and you don’t. As regards the detainee - wait a minute, don’t interrupt me. As regards the detainee, Protasevich, the opposition activist, we can give you an opportunity to meet him and you can talk to him. Don’t ask me questions about it. He will tell you. He has already said a lot, have you heard? He has said quite a lot.
CNN: I would like to meet him. That would be good, thank you, I’ll take you up on that offer.
Lukashenko: Please do.
CNN: But it’s not just me that doesn’t believe your story - most airlines in the world have stopped flying here. It’s just Turkish airlines and Russian airlines that fly here now, maybe one from a few other countries. The main airlines of the world refuse to fly to Belarus now or even overfly Belarus because of the threat they think your country poses to the civilian aircraft. Isn’t it true that you will do anything even violate international laws in the skies in order to get the people you want, to get your critics into custody? That’s the truth isn’t it.
Lukashenko: If you are afraid to fly over our territory, I can personally guarantee your safety and that of your company, your country or any other country when flying over Belarus, just as ever before. But if I, or the law-enforcement authorities, see any threat to the Belarusian state, we will force any plane to land, be it from the United Kingdom or the United States. It will be forced to land in Belarus immediately if we feel threatened, and you will do the same. This is normal, and I am no exception here. But as for fear of flying over Belarus, you have been flying over Belarus for decades without any problems, and there won’t be any. But if you choose not to fly, that’s fine, okay, fly over the North Pole or the South Pole, that is your right, I cannot force you. I’m not as powerful as Great Britain, let alone the United States, to dictate any terms. If you don’t fly, others will, as you’ve just said. That’s fine, we’ll get by. I think the time will come, maybe new people will come over there, and maybe over here, and they will realise the adverse effect of what you and we are doing. This doesn’t benefit anyone, not us and not you. I don’t know why you’re doing this. The fact that they have stopped flying over us - well, that’s because you’ve ordered them so. This opposition activist had barely been detained when everybody in Europe and America got their orders from Washington and started making carbon-copy statements. They were identical, just look at them. This means that someone - maybe CNN? - wrote these statements, and they began to deliver them and stopped flying here. Fine, God be your judge. We’ll survive.
CNN: What about the threats that you’re accused of posing now to the borders of the European Union, the Polish government, the Lithuanian government, others saying that you are encouraging migrants from various parts of the world to travel to Belarus, and then pushing them towards the borders of those countries putting massive pressure on the border authorities in European Union states. Do you take full responsibility for the refugee crisis that is underway on the Belarusian European borders at the moment?
Lukashenko: Do you have any actual proof that I am pushing these people to the Polish border? No, you have none and cannot have it. Why? Because…
CNN: I have allegations from European states. The Polish government that says that you are forcing refugees towards their border. You are even giving them drugs, according to Polish officials, amphetamines, in order to keep them awake and help them with the cold weather that they’re trapped in often for many days on end in that location. Do you deny that that’s what the Polish government says?
Lukashenko: This is madness. Everything that your Polish government is doing is madness. You say we are giving drugs to people. Please put your evidence on the table, if there are such facts, I will be accountable. Wait a minute, don’t interrupt. But to be sitting in Warsaw, and just wag your tongue about various things, avoiding accountability to the people of Poland for your own trickery, that’s a lot easier. You need to get to the bottom of this. Why don’t you see for yourself what’s going on on the border? We are ready. We have not declared a state of emergency on the border, like the Polish did. We allow any journalist to visit the border and see for themselves? You would be very welcome, CNN and other channels. Wait a minute. We invited them and they met these refugees. We ask them, please come back to Belarus before winter strikes. Stay a while in Belarus. No, [they say], the Lithuanians and Poles promised political or some other asylum. We will wait. And so they’ve been waiting for three months for this to be resolved. What has it got to do with Belarusians? Is this only via Belarus that people go to your country and the EU? What about the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy and Greece? How many people are dying there, hundreds, crossing the Mediterranean. Thousands get into the EU this way, and the same applies via Belarus. They don’t want to come here. They go to your countries because you invited them. Why did you invite them? You recently publicly invited the Afghans, and you asked the Central Asian states, former Soviet republics, and Russia to accommodate them there. You and the Americans asked for this and ordered Europeans to accept everybody. This was heard on your channel. So why aren’t you now accepting people who are running away from the wars in those countries you plundered, why? Don’t blame Belarus. If they were heading for Belarus and wanted to stay in Belarus, and we were kicking them out to Poland or Lithuania, then you would have a case, but there are no such people who want to stay in Belarus and are being booted out by me. You, however, are kicking dead bodies over our border.
CNN: Well, I would like to take you up on that opportunity to go visit that border region to see what actions you’re taking to protect those migrants. I’ll take you up on the opportunity. But just to circle back one more time, what European governments are saying and European officials is that you are weaponizing migrants, and you’re doing that, that’s their phrase, and you’re doing that as an act of revenge - in revenge for European sanctions, and then revenge for the fact that European countries are sheltering your dissidents, how do you answer that criticism?
Lukashenko: Matthew, you don’t need to take me at my word. I said that if you want to, we will take you to the border. For the last two and a half months, these poor people have been sitting there, 30 or more people, and we have been providing them with clothes, food and shelter. And on the other side there’s just barbed wire and Polish soldiers with guns. And we will show you certain things, like when they were setting dogs on people, beating them up, using electroshock guns just to squeeze people out, kick them out of Poland. And they weren’t even heading for Poland or Lithuania, they were going to Germany, where they’d been invited. So please don’t take me at my word. If I said that you can go to the border and see for yourself, we can take you there today or tomorrow. You are based in Moscow, you can visit from Moscow any time, we will take you there.
Lukashenko: Can you prove the fact that I decided to take revenge on the European Union? Do you take me for a madman? My country is in Central Europe, and it is a small one. Only 210,000 square kilometres? Nothing like the United States. Can 10 million people dictate terms to half a billion? There are half a billion people living in the European Union. Am I mad? I don’t think you take me for a madman, otherwise you wouldn’t have come here. So I’m not going to take revenge on anyone. Look, we have survived without the EU and we will continue to survive for many years. The world is huge enough without you. It is a small world, but it is huge. And if we need to sell something, the main thing is to sell our products. We export about 40% of our products. And Russia alone can take it all. But we also have China with 1.5 billion, our friend, and we’ll sell something there. We will sell to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India, we have normal relations with them. We can get by without you and without the United States, and will continue to do so. Only weak people care about revenge, and pardon my immodesty, but I don’t consider myself a weakling. And I don’t believe it necessary to take revenge on the European Union. I’m not going to. Revenge is more your country’s style. Why did you leave the European Union? Because you needed revenge, but I don’t.
CNN: Okay, you don’t need the European Union. But you do need Russia. Vladimir Putin has been perhaps your strongest supporter in the last 12 months after the election has been giving you diplomatic support, financial support. My question is, what have you promised him in return? What does Russia what is the price for its support?
Lukashenko: Pardon me Matthew, you have an Anglo-Saxon mentality. President Putin and I, or any of our officials, never talk like that: you pay me, or we promise something. We are fraternal nations. We come from the same origin, Russians and Belarusians. You probably know better than I because you’re looking at us all from the side-lines. We are no different, inside and out. We have a common policy and common goals. And we move along the same road towards these goals. We don’t need promises. We are nations that are very close to each other and we can build the future without promises, and even you can’t stop us.
CNN: Well, if you say there are no promises, but what about the military bases? What about the military bases? The radar stations are already here, the joint Air Combat Training Centre, which has recently been opened, maybe there’ll be more basis as well. This concern in the region, and all of this has been fuelling concern, that your dependence on Russia will turn Belarus into a Western outpost of the Russian military. Is that what you are doing handing over military control to your giant Russian neighbour?
Lukashenko:: If you are so afraid that Belarus could turn into a Western outpost for Russia, why pursue this stupid, brainless policy? Why are you turning us into Russia’s outpost? That’s first. But in essence, we have long been an outpost of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. At this Western front, we have effectively one army, one armed force manned by the Belarusian army. In the event of a conflict, and we make no secret of it, the entire western segment of the Russian armed forces will support us. I’m not threatening you. I’m just reminding you of something we keep talking about. So to say that there will be this outpost sometime in the future is pointless. If necessary, this outpost can be set up within a month, if there is a threat. As for bases, you surprise me. Don’t you or doesn’t NATO know what foreign bases there are here? We don’t have a single foreign base including Russians, except for two, you could almost say civilian bases. These are a legacy of the Soviet era. They were built under the Soviet Union, one for early warning of nuclear missiles coming over from your side, and the other base is a communications base for the Russian armed forces to communicate with their Atlantic fleet. That’s all the bases. There are about 30-40 people serving there in total, and they’re all our people. There are only two-three Russian officers, the rest are our servicemen. There are no other bases here. But the main thing for your viewers’ benefit, Matthew, and I’m not afraid to say this, if we need to, Belarus will turn into one military base for Russia and Belarus in order to withstand your aggression, if you decide, or if any one country decides to attack. And you should be clear on this, I have never made any secret of it. Your reporter was here, at Big Conversation, and I spoke of it.
CNN: Absolutely. You mentioned the Union State. That issue which has been around for a long time has gone to the top of the agenda in the past 12 months since your election and since the support that Russia has been giving. This talk of closer integration, closer economic, political, as well as military ties. Isn’t that the real price of Vladimir Putin support that this country of Belarus will be slowly absorbed into Russia? Isn’t that what you’ve agreed to pay?
Lukashenko: Well, it’s a matter of preference, if you prefer to think this is the price, God be your judge, do so. I can see that I can’t convince you otherwise. To say that Belarus would become part of the United States, Britain, or Russia, is an absolute fallacy. I answered this question recently. Putin and I, and the entire leadership of Russia and Belarus, are intelligent enough to create a union of two independent states that would be even stronger than either of these separate entities. This issue isn’t on the agenda at all. This is a product of collective Western imagination, as we say here, and I say this to you sincerely. There are no prices. The sovereignty and independence of any country is not for sale, especially not with me.
CNN: I just wanted to finish his interview with a quick question about the COVID 19 pandemic. At the beginning of the global pandemic, you dismissed the virus as being I think you said a psychosis. You said that it could be treated with vodka. And with traditional saunas. You yourself have had COVID and recovered from it. Do you now accept, with so many people in your country that have been infected and have died, that you were wrong to say that, and that people should have been more careful, and you should have advised them to be more careful?
Lukashenko: You say I didn’t take this international psychosis seriously. I repeat, I didn’t take this international psychosis seriously. We’ve dropped the ball on protecting people while seeking treatments and resolving other issues. Especially you over there, in the West, in America , in the United Kingdom. There has been no Belarusian variant, by the way, but there is a British variant stalking Europe to this day. You have basically created a new virus. So don’t blame us. As regards our deaths. Well, listen, we have six, eight people dying a day - six to eight, of suspected COVID. And we carry out post-mortems on all of them, and this isn’t always confirmed. But okay, let’s take six to eight. Meawhile, thousands die in the United States, hundreds die every day in Britain, and you say we don’t use the right treatment? You failed to treat people in the West. You don’t like my way, our Belarusian way of treating people. But it is based on our realities and our abilities, and our way turned out to be correct. We never locked down. Why aren’t you locking down now? So you confirm that our method is correct? We use vaccines from many countries, we have developed our own, and we are beginning to make it. We have provided medications and PPE for all. Is that not a serious attitude? But you want to say that this Belarusian dictator is a madman. He doesn’t offer treatment to people. But I am more involved in this than all of you Western leaders taken together. Moreover, I don’t know if you’ve had COVID but I have had this disease and I know what it’s like. Do you understand? So I have personal experience and a personal reason to draw certain conclusions and give advice to people. But if if I said, Matthew that you can take 100 grams of vodka and go to the sauna, well, that was a joke and any normal civilised person will take it as such, but you grabbed on to this and said, Lukashenka wants to treat people with vodka and sauna. That was a joke. We use the unified treatment protocols of the World Health Organisation. It is the same protocol in America, Britain, Russia and here, and we use it in treatment, but we are more successful because you have ruined your healthcare, and we have been building ours constantly. God help this situation not to get worse. So don’t you go accusing me. This is all fake news - everything that you’ve just said is fake, fake, fake news you’ve got from the internet, and a channel like CNN should be ashamed to be doing that.
CNN: Well I mean look let me just push back briefly on some of the things you said there, I have let you speak. It’s wrong to compare the death rates in Britain and Belarus because Belarus has a population of nine and a half million maximum, Britain’s population is much, much higher closer to 70 million and so they are different order of magnitude. What I will say is that 500 000 people according to your own official figures, which I mean who knows how accurate they are, have been infected with COVID in Belarus, that amounts to just over 5% of the population. More than 4000 people in Belarus have died of COVID-19. You rightly say that you had COVID-19 but you also said you are asymptomatic, so you don’t speak for the 1000s of people that have much tougher time with COVID-19 and actually lost family members or died themselves of this disease. What I’m asking for you, is like when I started this Interview, an apology to the people who have died and their families who’ve who followed your advice to drink vodka and to take a sauna. You say it’s a joke. But a lot of people didn’t take care COVID-19 seriously because of what you said.
Lukashenko: No, this is all proportionate. Look, I’m an economist. I know what I’m talking about. This is all proportionate. Take the population of Britain and the number of deaths and calculate the proportion, then compare it to ours. The difference will be 100 times, you have 100 times more deaths in proportion. Go ahead, do the maths. I’m not saying that 10 million in Belarus or - I don’t know how many you have, 70 or 80 or 60 million in Britain? I don’t remember exactly. 70 million. 70 million, and we have six daily deaths per 10 million. Okay, let’s take 10 per 10 million, but you have 800-900 dying a day per 70 million. So take the proportion. It’s not difficult to calculate. Looks like maths is not a strong subject in Britain? Don’t take it personally Matthew, I’m joking. So I’m calculating this proportionately. Don’t go accusing me.
CNN: I am not blaming you. I just want to know if you think you were wrong to give people that wrong advice. If you regret giving people that wrong advice.
Lukashenko: I have never given reckless advice to anybody, but you in Britain sometimes were so crazy you didn’t know what to do. We saw it, I saw it, because I was deeply involved in this. I can’t be reckless in my advice, because as you said, I had this illness myself, unlike you or some others, so I can talk about it easily. But you have decided that we took the wrong path. This is your view. I have a different view. And it is confirmed by concrete facts. And there is no getting away from it.
CNN: I will ask you one more question about Ukraine, if I can. It’s sort of unrelated to what we’ve been talking about. But you remember last year there was the arrest of a group of Russian mercenaries that were located, that travelled from Russia to Belarus. It was just before the elections last year, you remember, I know they were arrested. CNN recently did an investigation in Ukraine that revealed that that those people had been part of a Ukrainian led sting operation to try and arrest people they regarded as suspected criminals, war criminals fighting them in them in the east of the country. There’s a lot of controversy in Ukraine about how Belarus found out, what alerted you to the presence of those mercenaries. Can you recount for me how you find out about those Russian mercenaries sitting in that sanatorium near Minsk?
Lukashenko: You can ask me any questions, Matthew. They’re all related, Ukraine included. Since you’ve come all this way, please ask.
Lukashenko:: I didn’t quite understand, what information did I have? You are asking where I got the information. What information?
CNN: Well how did Belarus find out that these people were in Belarus and because the police, the military moved in to arrest them. That was all on television, on Belarusian television. Were you tipped off by someone, who told you they were there, was it the Russians? Was it the Ukrainians who was it? Or did you just find out yourself?
Lukashenko: Well, if you want to know the truth, I can give it to you in detail. What is surprising is that CNN admitted recently that this was a CIA operation through Ukraine. That was a surprise to me.
CNN: The CIA denied that by the way.
Lukashenko: CIA denies it? Oh, well, that is their right. They deny everything. I don’t insist, either. These 30 - or how many, around 30 people - as soon as they crossed the Belarus- Russia border by road, at the checkpoint on the Berlin-Moscow highway, our security service, using their own sources, received information that 30 armed people were heading our way from the Russian Federation. So immediately, they were on the radar of the Belarusian security forces. I monitored this every hour, because you would agree that this is a serious matter. So we monitored them, they tried to check into one hotel, then they checked into another. So I got a report saying they are in a hotel. And I put this question to the head of the security service. Can we watch them in Belarus, see what they’re going to do, and why they came here? Can we keep all 30 of them under control? And I got an honest answer, we will try. But we can’t guarantee it. We cannot guarantee that we won’t lose some of them. These people were armed, and I didn’t know why they were here. So I gave a personal order to arrest them all, at night when they checked into the hotel very near here. We detained all of them and put them in appropriate accommodating. There was no resistance, it was impossible to resist. It was a brilliant operation on the part of our security service. These are the same guys, one of whom died the other day, he took part. So they were detained. And then there was a big scandal in Russia and Ukraine. I asked the prosecutors-general, because both Russia and Ukraine asked us to extradite them. And I said let the prosecutors-general of Russia and Ukraine come to Belarus, sit down and decide together with our Prosecutor General who was to decide on their extradition somewhere. Nobody came. Then I called my eldest son, who was the president’s assistant on national security at the time. And I sent him to the detention center where these people were held. He went there. I asked him, put one question to them because nobody seems to want them, neither Ukraine nor Russia. Ask them where they want to go. I realized that these guys were here on somebody’s orders. He put this question to them, and he came back saying: Dad, they want to go to Russia. I said, all of them? There were six or so Ukrainian nationals among them. I said, do they all want to go to Russia? - Yes. - Did you ask the Ukrainians? - They said, only Russia, the Ukrainians demanded to be taken to Russia. Okay, I said, take a coach, put them on a coach and take them where they want to go. And they said, we want to go to Russia. We want to go to that place and that place in that place. He took them there. He gave them food and drink on the way, and they offered their apologies. They asked, and this is interesting, can we come to Belarus as tourists one day? And my son phoned me to ask this. I said, we are not going to ban anyone, but you must have good intentions when you come.
CNN: Thank you for giving me that account. There’s an allegation in Ukraine amongst opposition, anti-presidential anti-government figures in Ukraine, that the Belorussian government was tipped off by someone higher in the Ukrainian government. You’re telling me that’s not the case. That’s not what happened. Nobody called you from Ukraine and said listen, take a look at these people. That’s not what happened right?
Lukashenko: Did CNN have some different information or a different view? Was it news to you, what I have just said?
CNN: No, no, I think that confirms exactly what we, apart from the prosecutors, that your story fits with exactly what we’ve learned in our reporting. But there’s in Ukraine, there’s an allegation, a rumour that you were tipped off, that the Belarus was tipped off by someone higher up in the Ukrainian government. And I was asking you whether that was true or whether that was false. But you told me that your special services saw them.
Lukashenko: That’s an absolute lie, Matthew. Neither the Ukrainian government, nor the President of Ukraine, or anybody else tipped me off. I was tipped off by my own committee for state security, which monitored the progress of these Wagner people from the border to the hotel, back. Nobody from Ukraine or Russia phoned me on this matter.
CNN: Thank you very much for clarifying that. It is very interesting for us.
Lukashenko: Have we missed anything, Matthew? You were a bit agitated, dropped some equipment. Maybe we’ve missed some questions? If you have any, I can answer them now.
CNN: I don’t think so I think we covered everything I wanted to talk about. Maybe that last thing. I want to talk about the new constitution. Very briefly, that you’ve been trying to draw up and you’re overseeing that process. Are you confident there will be, you’re the first president of Belarus. Do you think there will be a second president of Belarus?
Lukashenko: Not the final question, only last in this sequence.
Lukashenko: Are you saying they’ve invented a drug for immortality?
CNN: No I did not try to say that.
Lukashenko: Matthew, I swear, I am not going to be president until I die. I swear. Everything depends on the situation in Belarus. If you and your patrons in the West, wherever they are, stop interfering into our situation, and we can be calm and confident as a sovereign independent nation and a people who deserves to be independent and sovereign, believe me, everything will happen sooner than you think. But if you dare to interfere into our affairs again, like last year, it will be bad, as bad as you think - right now.
CNN: You’ve been president now for I think 27 years, isn’t it? When do you anticipate leaving the post? When are you going to retire? How long from now?
Lukashenko: Look, I have been serving, as you say, for 27 years in this office, serving my people. But I haven’t reached the age of your Washington party committee yet. I think your president is 88 years old or soon will be 90. So let’s take the age of your Washington patron as our guide. Why not? Don’t worry, I’m not going to live that long. The president can serve as long as he wishes and as long as the people want him to be president. But only if he is fit and healthy and capable of running the country. It isn’t an easy situation here. So it would take an energetic, healthy person, elected by the people, and this person needs to want to be president. These are the main conditions. I mentioned another: there needs to be peace and calm, so as not to destroy what I have built as the first president of Belarus, as you say. But if you attack us all the time, throw bombs, deny us our own say, our own face and our independence, I will be president forever. I will protect that which I created together with the Belarusian people, at the price of my own life if necessary.
CNN: President Lukashenko, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Lukashenko: Did you ask everything you wanted?
Lukashenko: Thank you. You are an interesting person to talk to. No, I said YOU are an interesting person to talk to. Well, Matthew, yours is a serious channel, we watch it at home. My youngest son speaks very good English, and he often translates it for me when we watch this channel. Please be objective, be more honest. The world is such a small place, it’s a very small world. The planet is big, but it is actually very small. And whatever our differences, we have to live together on this planet. So let’s be friends.