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Belarus Warns West About Closer Moscow Ties

Belarus Warns West About Closer Moscow Ties
Combined Report
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko warned the West, which has placed sanctions on the former Soviet state due to its human rights record, that further pressure would push Minsk closer to Russia.
Long-strained relations between the United States and Belarus deteriorated further this month after President Alexander Lukashenko's government recalled its ambassador in Washington for consultations in retaliation against U.S. sanctions. The move prompted Washington to pull its ambassador. U.S. ambassador Karen Stewart left Minsk temporarily last week, after two requests for her departure over financial sanctions placed by Washington on a state company.
"I think that in the near future, under such huge pressure from the West on Belarus, our relations with Russia will become even closer," Lukashenko told the Austria Press Agency (APA), state controlled BelTA agency said on Thursday.
Ties between the United States and Russia have been strained over a number of issues including Washington's proposals to deploy a missile shield in eastern Europe and potential NATO membership of fellow ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.
Lukashenko has been promoting a post-Soviet merger with Russia since he came to power in 1994, but has tried to improve relations with the European Union after rowing with Moscow over the price of gas. The United States and the EU both say Belarusian authorities persecute independent media, rig elections and jail opponents, whose immediate release both have demanded.
Karen Stewart said on Tuesday Washington would only hold talks on easing sanctions if Belarus releases the most prominent of these detainees, Alexander Kozulin, who ran against Alexander Lukashenko in the 2006 poll that kept him in power.
Belarus shot back on Thursday suggesting Stewart would not be allowed back to Minsk until financial sanctions placed on the state oil products company Belneftekhim are lifted. “The future of Belarus’ dialogue with the United States depends on the complete lifting of sanctions against Belarusian economic entities,” Andrey Popov, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said at Thursday’s briefing. “It was not us that were the source of the tension in Belarusian-American relations,” the spokesman said according to BelaPAN when asked when U.S. ambassador Stewart could return.
President Alexander Lukashenko believes the U.S.’ sanctions “are absolutely not lethal” and warns that tension might heighten in the world, the press service of the president reported late on Tuesday after a meeting that addressed the safety of the country. “Some countries are trying to foment tension around Belarus, especially the U.S. with its sanctions against the oil and chemistry concern Belneftekhim. This is absolutely not lethal for the country. We now live under their so-called sanctions and will keep living,” Lukashenko said, quoted by the press service.
“The political and especially military-political situation around us is changing. The U.S. broke its engagements under the Memorandum on Security Assurances [in connection with Belarus’ accession to the Treaty on. the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons], imposed sanctions against Belneftekhim and then expanded them, thus showing a cynical attitude to international law.”
“We signed the Memorandum, and the U.S., Russia, and other countries vowed they would treat our country in accordance with our act of humanity and never apply any economic measures. What happens in a couple of years? Why Belneftekhim? What does it have to do with democratization? It is clear why they made this step,” Lukashenko said. Lukashenko said Belarus must be ready for heightened tensions in the world. “We could find ourselves in a new environment soon, and we must be ready to react adequately to assert our interests and ensure security.”
Minsk had released some detainees over the past few months, earning cautious praise from the EU, which has also said ties may improve in the run up to September's parliamentary poll. The EU has not made any statement on Belarus and its diplomatic spat with the United States in recent weeks, but Lukashenko fired a warning at the 27-member bloc on its borders.
"As for our relations with the European Union, then frankly speaking, I would like them to be better. It is absolutely unacceptable when the EU dances to the tune of the United States, when European politicians first act independently and then follow instructions from the U.S.," he told the Austrian news agency.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko remains popular in the country of 10 million. He says his rule has saved ordinary people from the economic hardships and political chaos that other ex-Soviet states went through. "Democracy in Belarus is the same as in Austria," he told APA. "Democratic values in Belarus are no lower than in other European countries. What is unsatisfactory in the democratic portrait of Belarus? What more does Europe need from Belarus?"


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