Lukashenka Accuses Russia Of 'Grabbing Belarus By The Throat'
RFE/RL's Belarus Service February 03, 2017
MINSK – Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has lashed out at Russia, accusing his powerful neighbor of violating treaties and using its role as an energy supplier to "grab us by the throat."
Speaking to journalists in Minsk on February 3, Lukashenka harshly criticized Moscow's recent decision to establish a "security zone" with border controls along the two countries' shared border.
Russia made the move to secure the previously open border after Minsk announced it was granting visa-free entry to Belarus to short-term visitors from some 80 countries as of February 9.
At his press conference, Lukashenka said Russia had "crossed out" existing treaties with Belarus "with the stroke of a pen."
The Belarusian president also accused Russia of trying to bolster its influence over Belarus by pushing to control its energy pipelines and using oil and gas supplies as a lever of power.
"Russia has often grabbed the oil and gas pipeline. It is happening now as well," he said. He added that "after such conflicts they have always told me, 'We went a bit too far.' But why grab the vital thing? Why grab us by the throat?"
Lukashenka said that "independence cannot be compared with oil" and that his country, which has long relied on subsidized Russian energy supplies, will find other energy suppliers if necessary.
However, Lukashenka denied recent speculation that Belarus might quit the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and said his country has no plans to join NATO.
In addition, the president said Belarus does not plan to quit the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), of which Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are members.
He complained, however, that his country has lost $15 billion due to the "unequal" conditions of many agreements within the group that started officially functioning in January 2015.
In the wide-ranging press conference, Lukashenka -- an authoritarian leader who has ruled Belarus since 1994 -- alluded to "forces that want to push Belarus into chaos and conflict."
"We have managed to preserve peace and stability," he said, despite a challenging geopolitical environment.
"We have to be friends with all our neighbors," Lukashenka said. "Neither Ukraine, nor Russia, nor Poland is alien to us. They are our neighbors; they were given to us by God."
Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its active military, economic, and political support for separatists in eastern Ukraine have alarmed many countries in the region, prompting fears about Moscow's intentions.
Lukashenka also said that he had called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to lower his expectations regarding U.S. President Donald Trump.
He said that he told Putin to remember Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" and asked him what place he thinks Trump will assign to Russia.
"They will put it in the 20th place because Russia's economy is the 20th in the world," Lukashenka said he told Putin.
The Belarusian president also compared Trump to himself.
"Trump is not that bad as you think," Lukashenka said. "He is inexperienced. I went through similar things as someone not from the elite moving upward... But there are many reasonable people there… The nation is not stupid. They will explain things to him and help him."
Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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