Lukashenko says Minsk, Moscow should respond to U.S. challenge

MINSK, September 8 (RIA Novosti) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday that Minsk and Moscow should respond to a "challenge" issued by NATO and the United States.

"NATO and the United States have challenged us, and whether we like it or not, we should respond to these challenges and threats," said Lukashenko commenting on the August 20 agreement between Washington and Warsaw to deploy missile defense elements near the Belarusian border.

Lukashenko urged a "proportionate and appropriate" response and pledged that Minsk and Moscow "would do their best to ensure the security of Russian and Belarusian citizens."

The Belarusian leader said Minsk had no choice but to maintain relations with the West, but cautioned that these ties would not be detrimental to cooperation with Russia.

"I said long ago that I would not trade friendship with Russia," Lukashenko said, adding that Belarus would honor its commitments to Russia.

He dismissed as "unacceptable" the possibility of integrating Belarus into Russia.

"Neither Belarus, nor Russia needs that," Lukashenko said. "Otherwise, Russia will simply lose a reliable ally and subject of international law."

He seemed less enthusiastic when commenting on the Russia-Belarus Union, and said that the achievements by the two countries within the union could have been accomplished as part of bilateral agreements.

However, the Belarusian leader praised relations with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and expressed hope that they would continue to progress further.

Lukashenko said he and Medvedev could hold two meetings later this year.



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