Lukashenko Critical Ahead of Putin Visit

MINSK -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko criticized Russia on Friday for failing to carry out decisions on integrating the two states a week before Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to visit.

The two countries have talked for more than a decade about a "union state" bringing the countries closer together, even though Lukashenko has sought a rapprochement with the West after years of isolation and accusations of human right abuses.

Despite talks of adopting the Russian ruble for trade, Minsk has been frustrated by what it sees as unequal access to Russian markets as both ex-Soviet countries grapple with the global economic downturn.

"Everything that we agreed, that we discussed at the supreme state council, the appropriate documents that we signed -- all of this has been blocked," Lukashenko said, the official BelTA news agency reported.

"If we are going to be blocking each other on such issues and Russia starts denying us access to its markets, then who needs this so-called integration process?" he said. "The presidents take decisions, and the Russian government fails" to implement them.

Lukashenko said he would discuss these issues when Putin visits on Thursday. The two are also expected to discuss the release of a $500 million Russian loan to Belarus and the idea of a currency swap, which would allow Belarus to move to the ruble in its trade accounts.

Lukashenko has to perform a balancing act between Russia, a traditional ally that is kinder to Lukashenko's style of rule and supplies Belarus' energy, and the EU, which can offer modernization and investment.

Lukashenko began moving away from Russia after a 2007 dispute over gas prices. Accused by the West of flouting human rights, Minsk has now taken steps toward the European Union such as releasing the last of what the bloc called political prisoners.

The EU suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko, and Belarus was invited to join the bloc's Eastern Partnership, an initiative to bring former Soviet states apart from Russia closer to the EU.

"It's not my fault that we're not moving toward integration, that we are developing a bridge to the West, that we have entered the Eastern Partnership and so on. ... In which direction are we supposed to move?" Lukashenko said.

Minsk is under pressure from Moscow to recognize as independent states the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Russian forces drove the Georgian army out last summer. The EU has made it clear that such a move would unravel any progress being made with Belarus.



Partners: Social Network