ArmInfo.Those following Armenia's foreign policy contacts must have noticed substantial progress in the Armenian-Belarusian relations - in both multilateral and bilateral formats.
Last year saw serious intensification of intergovernmental ties amid expanding bilateral trade and economic partnership and diplomatic cooperation. The past five years saw a 2.5-fold increase in the Belarusian- Armenian trade turnover - from $32mln in 2016 to $82mln in 2021. Among the main items of Belarusian exports to Armenia in January-September 2021 were dairy products, furniture, information processing machines and medicines.
Belarus imports alcoholic beverages, scrap and brassware from Armenia. In terms of export, Armenia is among the top 50 trade partners of Belarus. In 2020, both Armenia and Belarus appointed new heads of their diplomatic missions. Mr Aleksandr Konyuk, ex-Prosecutor General of Belarus, was appointed Belarusian Ambassador to Armenia.
Below is an interview with Mr Konyuk.
Question: Mr Konyuk, the Armenian-Belarusian Intergovernmental Commission held a meeting in Minsk recently. The event received scant media coverage, so to speak. Could you tell in detail what specific issues the Commission discussed and what specific decisions are expected to be implemented?
Answer: That was a most productive meeting. Commission members headed by Minister of economy Vahan Kerobyan arrived in Minsk. On behalf of Belarus Minister of Forestry Vitaly Drozhzha is Commission Co-Chairman. It is noteworthy that the Armenian delegation included Armenia's deputy foreign minister Armen Gevorndyan, who was recently Armenia's Ambassador to Belarus and is an expert in Armenian-Belarusian relations. The Armenian side was also represented by a deputy minister of culture and a deputy minister of high-tech industry. The Commission had not met for a long period because of the COVID-related restrictions, but a number of topics had to be discussed. In this context, I would like to note that besides the Intergovernmental Commission's meeting you have mentioned, our countries' foreign offices held consultations. Moreover, the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council held a meeting last month. The three events should be considered in context. Furthermore. A meeting of parliamentary delegations is on the agenda, and we are preparing it now. As regards the Intergovernmental Commission proper, Mr Kerobyan and Armenia's Ambassador to Belarus Razmik Khumaryan took a most active part in the Commission's work. A most serious program was prepared for our Armenian guests. They visited a number of enterpises, including such important ones as the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation CJSC (BNBC) with its high-tech full-cycle agro-industrial production. It is a relatively new company shared in by both the state and private capital. The company is implementing a large-scale export-oriented and import-replacement project of deep processing of grain using modern methods of biotechnology for producing and supplying to the local and export markets highly productive, balanced feed and premixes. The project is the largest and unique agro-industrial complex not only in the Republic of Belarus, but also throughout the former USSR. The company will also set up the production of fish food, which is sure to be of interest to numerous Armenian fish farms. This industry is developed in Armenia and, as a consumser of your fish products, I highly appreciate it. I think we have something to work at, and I would like to see Armenian fish - sterlet and trout - more often in my country's stores. These products will, no doubt, find their consumers. The Commission members also visited the Belarus/Chinese joint-venture car manufacturer BelGee. Good and safe cars, especially Geely Atlas. Of importance is that all the cars are highly localized as, with sanctions imposed on it, Belarus has to rely on itself and on its friends, Russia, China, India, as well as on its partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), including friendly Armenia. Our Armenian partners showed interest in products of BKM Holding, a manufacturer of municipal engineering goods, primarily of electric buses, the Minsk tractor works, which has a diverse product line, as well as a number of other enterprises.
Question: As regards agricultural equipment, this is a 15-year-old story. Much has been said of the possibility of manufacturing small-sized farm and other machinery in Armenia, and attempts have even been made. Armenia really needs its own system of inexpensive modernization of agricultural assets.
Answer: You are right, and we discussed the topic at the Intergovernmental Council's meeting. By now we have agreed on the assembling of lifts for residential buildings. Mogilyov lifts can now be seen in some residential buildings in Yerevan, and the works won a tender. The Yerevan Municipality invited tenders for the project back in 2019. It is important to start the assembling of lifts in Armenia, with the highest-level localization - and the Yerevan Municipality supports the idea. Mogilevliftmash managers got in touch with me just a few days ago, and we had a serious talk about organizing the assembling process in Armenia. Establishing a new industrial enterprise in Armenia is most important. I am well acquainted with that enterprise. Pursuant to the president's order, I, in my previous position, was head of the supervisory board. By the way, the after-sale maintenance of Mogilyov lifts is being organized in Yerevan. We are going to start from after-sale maintenance, with localization and assembling process to follow. It goes without saying, you have numerous well trained specialists and can accomplish any task. You are a highly intellectual nation. For example, you are among IT leaders. It is not my opinion, but that of my son, who has for years been working in this field. He recently visited me here in Armenia and is going to visit the country once more to expand his contacts. He says Armenia can be well seen on the IT map of the former Soviet Union, along with Estonia, Belarus and Georgia.
Question: What other promising projects are expected to be implemented? As a country the West imposed sanctions on, Belarus has to be in constant search of sales markets. Armenian economy is in dire need for it because of its narrow domestic market.
Answer: I highly appreciate the potential of our partnership. And I spoke about it at the Intergovernmental Commission's meeting and told my workmates from Belarus about it. As Ambassador of Belarus, I am doing and will do my best to give impetus to this potential for it to be realized in the form of actually implemented mutually beneficial projects in such fields as industrial production, agriculture, IT. Recently we hosted representatives of the Grodno dairy factory (Molochny Mir OJSC). I accompanied the factory representative during her visits to prospective partners and introduced her to the managers of Armenia's major trading networks. She was surprised to see an ex- prosecutor trading in milk. I told her it was natural, as the task was set by the government and by the president - expanding the markets and intensifying economic integration. Who else but me is going to deal with it? Export-related issues are our priority. And Armenia has to revitalize its industry. We are forming most serious relations with the Tashir group. I am acquainted with its young managers here in Yerevan - they are clever guys, intellectuals.
Question: Before our conversation, I looked through some figures showing the state of Belarusian economy. Interestingly, with sanctions imposed on the country, it is not "losing its weight." Rather, you, so to say, "get enthusiastic" about them.
Answer: I have just returned from Minsk, and I am going there again. The reason? The Intergovernmental Commission's meeting gave impetus to a number of projects. I cannot tell you about all of them beforehand, but we have much work to do. Just one reservation: in 2021, the year sanctions were against the country were in effect, Belarusian exports showed 36.2% growth. Some production facilities, MAZ for example, resumed their operation just in time. No overstock in contrast to former times. We planned to deliver gas-powered and electric buses to Armenia. And the Commission members visited the manufacturer, MAZ. We planned to deliver high-quality buses to Yerevan, and the Yerevan Municipality was satisfied with their parameters, but a Chinese producer won the tender because of some snag. Well, never mind. We failed here, but Saint Petersburg is now purchasing 900 buses from us, while MAZ can manufacture up to 1,500 buses a year. And it is not enough. But I can say that our close contacts with our Armenian friends enabled us to conclude a serious contract with a third country through their mediation. It is the largest-scale contact for supply of MAZ vehicles. Armenia is helping us, and the contract was signed here. BelAZ is interested in Armenia's market as well. The delivery of six 90-ton vehicles worth a total of $12mln is being discussed.
Question: As Ambassador of Belarus you mainly aim at advancing economic interests in the host country, while Armenian diplomats and trade representatives are expected to deal with Armenian export. What would be your advice?
Answer: I am saying to everyone: brothers, Armenians, why do you not bring dried fruits to Belarus? It is fantastic, there is nothing like this anywhere, and it is really healthy dainty! Your people seem to agree, but plead logistic or other problems. There is nothing impossible. We can bring our dairy products to Armenia. So what's the matter? What "unattainable" logistics is in question?
Question: You had a meeting with Armenia's Minister of High-Tech Industry. What prospects can you single out?
Answer: Yes, we had a meeting and talked about cooperation in high technologies. I am preparing Mr Vahan Khachatryan's visit to Minsk. I have talked to our Minister of Industry Petr Parkhomchik. We want to visit the "Great Stone" Industrial Park. It is a truly unique enterprise, or rather, a high-tech conglomerate of IT companies. The minister is interested in other companies working in our country as well. This visit will be of interest to our Armenian friends because, as far as I am informed, the Armenian government plans the creation of your own "Silicon Valley". We have extensive experience and we could be of great help.
Question: Does not Minsk view Yerevan as a rival in this field in the Eurasian space?
Answer: Not at all! What rivals can we be? Moreover, I told the minister that we should provide legal and methodological aid in developing this project. Preparing a legal basis for the project is a most difficult task. I am acquainted with the team that drafted legislation for the Great Stone. But about a year and a half has passed since. This all is most serious. It is narrow specialization, which requires not only knowledge of law, but also specialist expertise. I, for example, as a lawyer with many years of experience, would not venture into a business like that. For example, the Belarusian IT industry accounts for up to 8% of the country's GDP. And our GDP is about $70 billion. And the IT sector ranks second after the industrial sector. And it is the second major taxpayer. This is a most serious sector, which requires an extremely accurate approach. And we could share our experience with you. I would like to ask you about the international situation around the Republic of Belarus. Answer: I can say the following: we all come from the Soviet Union and it cannot be helped. I recently attended a conference in memory of Anastas Mikoyan. We talked about it there - about our recent common tragic and heroic past. We have a lot of critics of Mikoyan, including those critical of the Soviet times. But none of them has ever thought that, despite all the weak points of that totalitarian system, our countries developed into full-fledged nations, laid the groundwork for our future nationhood and powerful industry, trained excellent engineers and creative people, raised our science to the international level. We in Belarus have been able to preserve many things, especially our industrial infrastructure, and later restore it on new principles, modernize it, retain a high level of education, and develop the agricultural sector. And some do not like it. They wanted to crush us, trample us underfoot, "make a second Ukraine of us," as our president once put it. They do not like such a country in the center of Europe, with its independent policy in its own national interests. Yes, we closed down NGOs and NPOs of every kind, which, according to their regulations, are expected to protect animal rights. But they are doing anything but what written in their regulations - and with foreign sponsorship.
Question: So these need to be replaced by national ones. Nature abhors a vacuum. And we are not good at creating our own inclusive social capital.
Answer: Yes, we should show a more serious approach to it by assisting those creating their own social capital in the country instead of working for "Uncle Sam." There was an attempted color revolution with a view to destroying our country. But they failed! Does it have to do with the subject of the Genocide of the Belarusian people, with the initiative to adopt the Law on Genocide of the Belarusian people? The entire world knows well that Belarus lost a third of its population during the Nazi occupation. No one is denying it. But this question has never been put point-blank before. You can be sure we have been forced to revert to the topic of Belarusian Genocide. By means of sanctions they make us remind the entire civilized world that Belarus lost a third of its citizens in battling the German fascism. The fascist thugs came to our land, burning our homes, hanging people, murdering them, burning them alive. I have now started a thorough study of the Armenian Genocide, reading historical sources. I think our Armenian brothers could help us in terms of both methods and legal consultations. Our president raised this topic and reproached scholars and diplomats, and, probably, himself, for being indifferent to the topic. And what is taking place now? It is not the USSR that defeated German fascism. It is now Germany, which was destroying us, the Belarusians, during World War II, that is imposing sectoral sanctions in an attempt to annihilate us. The Yalta-Potsdam system of international relations is disintegrating in front of us, but it does not mean history can be re-written, anyone can interfere in others' domestic affairs and threaten with sanctions. And we have most seriously addressed this issue. Special divisions at the Prosecutor General's Office and Investigation Committee are dealing with it. Criminal investigation is in progress, and we have made representations and requested legal aid from our foreign partners, particularly from those we have signed relevant conventions with. We have started very serious work. In any case, a people that does not remember its own history is doomed. Thank you for your interview and I wish you every success in your mission in Armenia.