Lukashenko calls Russia and EU partners, seeks help

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. (AFP Photo / Belta / POOL/ Gennady Semyonov)
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said Russia and the EU are his country’s major trading partners and urged the neighbors to lift sanctions and resume co-operation with Belarus as it struggles to emerge from crisis.

“We are for the integration of trade and economic co-operation within the Commonwealth of Independent States where we consider Russia our main strategic partner, and at the same time we are ready to enlarge co-operation with the European Union and the United States,” Lukashenko said.At the same time, the Belarusian president noted that while his country considered the European Union its main partner, it was not “begging with an outstretched hand” and seeking co-operation under any conditions.

In mid-October the EU extended sanctions against Belarus, which include a travel ban for 192 Belarusian officials and the freezing of their European assets and operations. The EU is outraged by the continuing repression of opposition figures in Belarus and has been putting pressure on Aleksandr Lukashenko to free political prisoners.

Belarus has criticized the measures as interference in its internal affairs and has repeatedly threatened to retaliate. Belarusian officials have also accused the international community of taking advantage of the global financial crisis in an attempt to destabilize the country’s economy.

After a long period of relative stability before trouble flared around the presidential elections in December when the authorities cracked down on opposition figures, Belarus is now suffering an economic setback as demand for its exports took a hit while the country’s welfare spending remains high. The government has had to take painful measures to cope with the budget deficit, including the recent liberalization of currency trading, which resulted in the devaluation of the national currency and with it, the savings of its citizens.

However in his speech in Tajikistan, Lukashenko expressed hope that Western policy towards his nation would change. "I am sure the time hascome to abandon these artificialbarriers andoutdatedstereotypesandclearthepathtowardfull-format interaction," Lukashenko said. "Double standards,attempts toapply pressure and whatever sanctions have never beenand will never bea constructive elementin politics," he said.

"We cannot be blamed for the complications in relations with the EU and the US," Lukashenko added."We sincerely seek to maintain neighborliness and constructive interaction," he continued. "Interest in dialogue and normal relations between us should be objectively present on both sides," the president concluded. "We are not panhandling for co-operation, but we are offering it."

Belarus did not initiate its current rift with the United States, Lukashenko insisted. "On the contrary, Belarus has always been a responsible partner of the United States in combating terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking," he said. "We are providing some assistance to Washington even today in resolving the well-known problem of Afghanistan," the Belarusian leader added.