Lukashenko reassures EU that Belarus is a ‘reliable partner’

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko has been reassuring the European Union that he remains committed to the Eastern Partnership amidst ongoing reports of ever-closer ties with Russia.

“We think that neighbours are given by God, they cannot be chosen and that is why it is necessary to develop ties with them. And because of that we will always be a reliable partner of the European Union,” said Mr Lukashenko.

Speaking in Minsk at the start of a fresh round of negotiations with EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, Gunther Oettinger, Mr Lukashenko stressed that “there always have been and always will be [problems], but they are certainly not of a chronic nature and should be resolved.”

“The European Union and Belarus have made good progress on a number of initiatives in the bilateral relationship over the last three years,” Mr Oettinger added.

The possibility of organising a high-level event on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership was also discussed between the two leaders.

EU ambassadors recently extended an arms embargo against Belarus for another year. The EU eased restrictions against Belarus in 2016 after the release of several political prisoners, but criticised the country for its violent crackdown on anti-government protests in March 2017.

Mr Oettinger’s visit to Belarus came just days after the Belarusian president’s visit to Moscow, where he held talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

The EU is the second largest market for Belarusian exports after Russia.