"Ukraine made a sovereign decision, and we will find a formula to be together and to continue cooperation. We have a long path ahead of us. We, the members of the Customs Union, should soon find the formula of cooperation under the new conditions," the President of Belarus said.
He also stressed that even if Ukraine joined NATO, it would be necessary to continue the cooperation.
"I fully support Ukraine, and we will definitely find a formula to work together. We want Ukraine to participate in the Common Economic Space integration processes," Lukashenko said.
This statement, however, cuts across the opinion of Lukashenko's longtime ally, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, who in turn threatens Ukraine with severe sanctions in case of realization of its eurointegration intentions. Thus, ForUm has asked experts about what happened between the two Presidents and why their opinions appear split.
Hryhoriy Perepelytsia, Doctor of Political Science, director of the Institute of foreign policy of the FM Diplomatic academy of Ukraine:
- This is a result of awakening after joining the Customs Union. A year ago Lukashenko actively called upon Ukraine to join the Customs Union, but for the time being its member Belarus has lost a third part of its goods turnover. This statement proves that the President of Belarus finally realizes the loss of trade and, consequently, national sovereignty in this geopolitical union.
Such awakening forces Lukashenko to seek other ways to support trade relations. In other words, to seek an alternative, and, unfortunately, he does not have many. Being in isolation from the European Union and now having difficulties with Russia the President of Belarus badly needs a different partner for cooperation, otherwise he has no choice but to submit to terms of the Kremlin.
Voloymyr Ohryzhko, ex-foreign minister of Ukraine:
- Russia is obviously bluffing. It tries to threaten us with possible and impossible horrors, which are far from the reality. In fact, if both sides wish to find a compromise, they will, especially when it concerns trade and economic relations, based on principles of the WTO, which both Russia and Ukraine are members of. We must understand that this is rhetoric of pure political character. As for the President of Belarus, he is a realist, who does not have great-power chauvinist feeling, but estimates the situation pragmatically. I am sure we will manage to agree with both the Russians and Belarusians. We simply do not have another alternative.
Yevhen Zherebetski, Ukrainian political scientist, ex-MP:
- Lukashenko is not a reliable partner. Now he has complicated relations with Russia, thus turns to Ukraine, but if the relations improve, he may go back to the previous political vector. Generally speaking, undemocratic state of Belarus is a great civilizational loss. We should understand that Ukraine follows completely different scenario comparing to Belarus and Russia. Thus, whatever is said about the ruling party, its eurointegration course is clearly a good policy.
Viktor Nebozhenko, political scientist, director of the sociological service "Ukrainian barometer":
- Everything started with Ukraine's unexpected move in Astana, when our country made the Customs Union to amend its statute and to grant Ukraine with the status of observer. Such status stipulates Ukraine's right to participate in the activities of the Union, but does not impose responsibility for common decisions. Lukashenko loved the idea and thought that Ukraine sits pretty: it participates in the Customs Union, but does not suffer any stress. Thus he started to "envy" the activity and success of Yanukovych and Ukraine in general. On one hand we have certain advantages in the Customs Union, and on the other hand, Ukraine becomes an active participant of trade relations with Europe.
I won't be surprise if tomorrow Lukashenko enhances cooperation with Ukraine to become closer to Europe and not to suffer political losses. The matter is that Europe agrees to trade with Belarus, but demands observance of human rights and respect to the opposition. Lukashenko, however, does not agree with such conditions, but prefers purely economic relations. It explains why Belarus has nothing against Ukraine's European integration: supporting Ukraine it will have "one foot in Europe".
Volodymyr Zolotaryov, political scientist:
- Lukashenko is playing this game because of the tension in relations with Russia. Despite the fact that Belarus is a member of the Customs Union, Lukashenko always acts as he sees fit and defends his interests. Thus, he regularly flirts either with one part or with another. And his statement does not come as a surprise. Belarus and Russia regularly unleash economic wars. Thus, having a regular conflict with Putin, Lukashenko continues the usual play and follows his own interests.
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