Lukashenko Expected to Skip EU's Prague Summit


PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko almost certainly will not attend a European Union summit this week aimed at boosting ties with six former Soviet republics, sources in the EU presidency said.

The EU presidency, currently held by Czech Republic, wants the summit on Thursday to kick-start deeper cooperation with Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and also Belarus. The sources said the Belarus delegation would be headed by a deputy prime minister, probably Vladimir Semashko.

"We are nearing certainty on" Lukashenko not coming, one of the sources said, adding that Belarus had registered a deputy prime minister for the conference.

Several Czech diplomats had said Lukashenko's visit would be deemed as too irritating by some EU states and a lower representation would be more productive for the summit.

The EU presidency sources said Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin would also stay away. Moldova's opposition staged violent protests last month against what they said was vote-rigging in parliamentary elections.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sounded unease about the program including former Soviet republics last week, but he also said the EU had assured him that it was not trying to create a sphere of influence with this program.

The Prague summit is not expected to deliver any strong conclusions but should open the path for cooperation in good governance, energy security and economic integration, according to a draft declaration.

The European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will be invited to prepare programs to help small and medium-sized firms, the draft said.

The EU wants to pursue projects with the Eastern Partnership countries including creation of free-trade areas and possibly association agreements, a form of deeper ties with the EU though not a ticket to join the bloc.

The Eastern Partnership summit will be followed by a Friday meeting on the "Southern Corridor," which includes the Nabucco pipeline project to bring gas from the Caspian.

The sources said the summit would not lead to an intergovernmental agreement that is needed to move ahead with the project but there would be a political declaration by heads of state or government showing commitment to support the plan.



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