ROAR: Lukashenko promises democratic elections in Belarus

The Belarusian president is trying to improve relations with the European Union as the presidential elections draws closer.

Minsk may receive a three-billion-euro aid package from European countries if the election in December is fair. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski made this statement on Tuesday during his visit to Minsk. According to the minister, the aid may come from different sources within three years if Belarus co-operates more closely with Europe.

“If the election proves fair, Belarus will be able to take advantage of relations with Poland and Europe,” Sikorski was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying. He added that Minsk “has a unique chance,” underlining that he spoke about “the quality of the election, and not about results.”

At the meeting with Sikorski and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the Belarusian leader assured the EU that “the election will meet the most democratic of standards.” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying: “We don’t need an election that will be questioned by the international community.”

Belarus is interested in co-operation with Europe, but “Europe cannot do without Belarus either,” because it is the center of the continent, Lukashenko said. He added that such methods as sanctions “must be removed.”

Commenting on the ministers’ visit to Belarus, Nezavisimay Gazeta daily said that Lukashenko feels “on top of the situation.” Envoys from Europe keep traveling to Minsk, “asking him to hold the election in a way so that they may recognize them,” the paper wrote.

The Belarusian president not only criticized the sanctions, but also stressed that the Eastern Partnership initiative is not justifying hopes and “is making no headway,” the daily noted.

Representatives of the Belarusian opposition were prepared to speak with the ministers of Poland and Germany about the course of the election campaign. They also “expressed hope that the visit was not a demonstration of support for Lukashenko,” the daily added.

“At the same time, Europe is conducting dialogue with him, and, judging by the latest developments, it is even ready to see him as a new head of the Belarusian state if he is able to persuade European observers and international public that election procedures are democratic,” the paper stressed.

So far only Lukashenko has benefited from the “European low-effect policy to gradually attract him to democratization,” the daily said. Meanwhile, “his poorly thought-out policy has caused the deterioration of the relations with Russia, and the energy crisis is looming ahead.”

From January to October, 2010, Russia’s oil supplies to Belarus reduced by 43 per cent compared to the same period in 2009, Regnum news agency said.

Moscow is closely watching the situation around Belarus on the eve of the elections, concentrating on economic issues in the bilateral relations.

Poland has lifted its veto on Minsk’s participation in the Northern Dimension, which also has financial consequences, according to Sikorski.

The Northern Dimension initiative covers Nordic and Baltic countries, and Russia, and concerns external and cross-border policies, promoting security and addressing environmental challenges.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope on Tuesday that Minsk may be granted the status of observer in the Northern Dimension. According to him, the move will “confirm formally the de facto high level of Belarus’ involvement in the practical co-operation” under the program, Itar-Tass reported.

Moscow and Minsk have recently been at odds on many issues in the political and economic areas. On Tuesday, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko warned that Minsk may raise significantly its fees for transiting Russian natural gas from 2012, Interfax said.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian government is considering Russia’s proposal concerning the replacement of the export duty on crude oil delivered to Belarus by an export duty on the oil products Belarus makes from that oil, the agency said. Minsk will collect the duty and transfer it to the Russian budget.

This issue, considered by Minsk one of the most important obstacles for the development of bilateral relations, may be solved during the formation of the common economic space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently said that “problems, disputes and misunderstandings are inescapable between two close neighbors.” But peoples’ vital interests and expectations “are the most important thing,” he stressed.

Sergey Borisov, Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT