Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Straight-talking Alyaksandr Lukashenka on life, women, and politics

Farangis Najibullah, RFE/RL

For years viewed as one of the Kremlin's staunchest allies, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka diverged from the party line in an interview this week with Dozhd TV's Ksenia Sobchak. In a surprisingly candid talk, Lukashenka discussed topics including the Ukrainian crisis and Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny -- as well as his views on divorce and beautiful women.

On Aleksei Navalny:

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he would not have prosecuted Aleksei Navalny, the Russian opposition figure and anticorruption blogger who was convicted of embezzling $500 000 in the so-called KirovLes case.

Navalny was initially given five years in prison in that case, but a court later suspended the sentence. He is currently under house arrest in connection with a separate case.

"No, never. What has [Navalny] done to be put in prison?" Lukashenka said. "What is the KirovLes [case] in comparison to billionaires, who have robbed half of the country?"


On the crisis in Ukraine:

Lukashenka said Ukraine's interim government needs to talk with "so-called separatists" in eastern regions to resolve the country's ongoing crisis.

"Ukraine should remain a united state," Lukashenka said. "Similar scenarios won't happen in Belarus under any circumstances, at least while I am president."


On Russian President Vladimir Putin's divorce and his own marriage:

Lukashenka insisted he remains legally married to his estranged wife, Galina Lukashenka, and has no intention of divorcing her, despite the fact that they "haven't lived together for 30 years or so."

"I don’t want to traumatize the mother of my eldest children," Lukashenka said, adding he is under no pressure to divorce Galina.

"Why is [divorce] necessary? Who needs it? Tell me, who is demanding that I divorce?" he asked.

Lukashenka, however, said Russian President Vladimir Putin, who divorced his wife Lyudmila last year, may have been "under pressure" to do so.

Lukashenka suggested a "girl or a woman" might have wanted Putin to get divorced. "It's even possible to put pressure on presidents," he said.


On beautiful women:

Lukashenka was also asked about a young woman with whom he was photographed with during a recent ice hockey match.

Lukashenka identified the woman as former beauty queen Darya Shmanay.

"She has worked with me for two years," Lukashenka said, adding there are many "very beautiful women" working in his administration.

Lukashenko said he never sits among officials with a "sour face" during public events. "My son on one side, and a girl on the other," Lukashenka explained his sitting arrangements.


On the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky:

Lukashenko said he didn't believe claims that exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky had committed suicide. Berezovsky died in March 2013 in Great Britain at his home near Ascot.

Police in Britain said his cause of death was consistent with hanging.

"He loved life so much -- and not only a good life," Lukashenka said. "He was ready to live in a den, a cave, but to be alive."

In what seemed to be a reference to Berezovsky's Jewish heritage, Lukashenka said he had once told the late oligarch that he would never hand him over to Russian authorities.

Although 90 percent of Belarus's Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, Lukashenka said Belarusians had stood with the Jews and he seemed to draw an implicit comparison between wartime Germany and Russia today.

"Even during difficult times, during war, we didn't hand over Jews [to the Nazi army] and fought for them," Lukashenka said, adding "why would I hand over one single Jew who came to me?"