Top US diplomat visits Belarus in bid to woe traditional Russian ally
Iran Press TV
Sunday, 02 February 2020 3:07 AM
Hawkish US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has visited Belarus in a bid to "normalize" ties with the traditional Russian ally, seeking to capitalize on persisting tensions between Minsk and Moscow over energy subsidies.
Pompeo's Saturday visit to Belarus came as the US and the European Union have long been frequent critics of the country's authoritarian rule and the human rights record under President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994.
The top US diplomat is the most senior American official to visit Minsk in more than two decades, insisting during a meeting with Lukashenko that Washington backed the country's independence while recognizing its longstanding ties to Russia.
"There's a long history with Russia. It's not about picking us between the two. We want to be here," Pompeo underlined as the US has long been seeking to gain more influence in countries bordering the Russian state.
He further stated that Washington would soon appoint a new ambassador to Minsk, claiming that the United States would continue pressing for human rights reforms while also fostering closer economic ties.
Lukashenko, for his part, told Pompeo: "It is very good that you, after all kinds of misunderstandings in relations between Belarus and the United States, absolutely baseless misunderstandings ... you risked coming to Minsk to look at this country."
In an apparent effort to mock West's age-old characterization of him as a dictator, Lukashenko further told the top US diplomat that "our dictatorship is different, in that everybody is resting on Saturday and Sunday, and the president works."
Lukashenko has also made clear that he has held talks with the US and other countries to find alternative oil supplies after Moscow suspended supplies to refineries in Belarus from January 1, though it partially restored them on January 4.
In a separate meeting with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, Pompeo further said, "The United States wants to help Belarus build its own sovereign country. Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100% of the oil you need at competitive prices."
"Your nation should not be forced to be dependent on any one partner for your prosperity or for your security," he claimed.
Relations between Minsk and Moscow soured last year after the two sides failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
The disagreement fed into a broader dispute between the two sides in which Lukashenko has reportedly blamed the Kremlin for trying to bully Belarus into a union with Russia.
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