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Lukashenko says NATO expansion inevitable

RIA Novosti

03/04/2008 16:50 MINSK, April 3 (RIA Novosti) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday that the admission of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO was inevitable, and that Belarus should strengthen its defense capacity accordingly.

NATO members meeting at a summit in Romania have decided to postpone offering Georgia and Ukraine the chance to join the alliance's Membership Action Plan (MAP). NATO's secretary general later said however that the former Soviet republics would eventually be invited to join.

"The issue of Ukraine and Georgia's membership of NATO is merely a matter of time," Lukashenko, dubbed 'Europe's last dictator' by Washington, told a news conference in Minsk.

"We need to think about strengthening our defense capacity," he added.

"Our armed forces are all the Belarus-Russia Union State has in the west," he said, adding that Belarus, as a party to a military agreement with Russia, would defend the Union's western borders should the need arise.

"The treaty with Russia is sacred thing, and we will implement it without fail. Russia also fulfills its commitments and provides us with a reliable shield, including nuclear, in line with this treaty," Lukashenko said.

The U.S. and the European Union have accused Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections. Lukashenko, who was re-elected to a third term in 2006, and other senior Belarusian officials have been blacklisted from entering the U.S. and EU.

Tensions between the U.S. and Belarus heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary.

The U.S. ambassador to Belarus also 'temporarily' left Minsk last month following an official recommendation that she leave the country.

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