Vilnius looks to Lukashenko in Belarus poll

WARSAW, Nov. 11 (Reuters) - Lithuania's president has said a victory for Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus's presidential election next month will safeguard stability and limit Russian influence in the ex-Soviet state, according to EU diplomatic sources.

Her view reflects a feeling in some EU capitals that a continuation of Lukashenko's rule, despite his poor record on democracy and human rights, is preferable to having to contend with an expansion of Russian influence.

A traditional ally of Russia, Lukashenko has been courting the European Union following a series of spats over trade and energy subsidies with Moscow, which has made clear it will not back the veteran leader's re-election bid.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, an EU member bordering Belarus, told the bloc's ambassadors at a meeting in Vilnius this month that a win for Lukashenko was preferable.

"The opposition is not serious and has no chances in any sort of election. Lukashenko could win by 99 percent, but he will only win by 75 percent to please the EU," an EU diplomat quoted her as having told the ambassadors.

"Lukashenko is the guarantor of the economic and political stability of Belarus and of its independence. We (Lithuania) would not like to see a second Russia as our neighbour."

A second diplomat present at the meeting confirmed the remarks.

Grybauskaite's comments, coming after she discussed energy cooperation with Lukashenko in Minsk, underscore the enduring distrust of Moscow in the Baltic republics two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and their concern over central and eastern Europe's continued reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Political analysts say Lukashenko will have little trouble winning re-election against a divided opposition, though Russian media have speculated Moscow might back an anti-Lukashenko candidate as a spoiler.

Lukashenko controls most media in Belarus and has won popular support by maintaining Soviet-era subsidies.


The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland also visited Minsk last week. They urged Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and once branded "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, to hold a fair election on Dec. 19, something he promised to do.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said an honest vote would free up some 3 billion euros of investment over three years for the former Soviet republic of 10 million people, which is sandwiched between Russia and Poland.

Europe's top vote watchdog, the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has never recognised an election in Belarus as free and fair.

Lukashenko and dozens of other officials were banned from travelling to the EU after accusations of fraud at the last election in 2006 when he officially won more than 82 percent of the vote. That ban was ended in 2008.

Regional heavyweight Poland has strongly supported EU efforts to build ties with former Soviet republics such as Belarus, but its bilateral ties have been hampered by Minsk's crackdown on its ethnic Polish minority.

Poland is also at loggerheads with fellow EU and NATO ally Lithuania over Vilnius's treatment of its Polish minority and over a Polish-owned refinery in Lithuania. Grybauskaite was due to attended Poland's independence day celebrations in Warsaw later on Thursday and hold talks with President Bronislaw Komorowski.


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