Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Lukashenka denies link between conflict with Sweden and teddy bear stunt

The diplomatic conflict with Sweden and the invasion of Belarus' airspace by a plane piloted by Swedes are not connected in any way, Alyaksandr Lukashenka told reporters in the Astravets district, Hrodna region, on Thursday.

"Some link this issue to either teddy bears or elephants," Mr. Lukashenka said. "However, these are two entirely different things." The conflict was sparked by Sweden's refusal to exchange new ambassadors in line with an earlier agreement, he said.

Stefan Eriksson served as Sweden's ambassador to Belarus for seven years despite the fact that diplomats usually stay in one country for no more than three years, Mr. Lukashenka said. In other words, Belarus accommodated Sweden by extending Mr. Eriksson's accreditation, he added.

However, the Swedish government was notified about a year ago that the ambassador's activities made it impossible for Minsk to prolong his accreditation, Mr. Lukashenka said.
"He was in the vanguard of our fifth column, studied the language and the history of the Belarusian people, but I'm not talking about this," Mr. Lukashenka said. "God willing, he'll have more time now. The problem is that he was destroying everything positive in relations between Sweden and Belarus. This was a year ago. I listened and said, 'Don't annul his accreditation, he has only one year to go, let's be patient.'"

Mr. Lukashenka stressed that the illegal flight of a Swedish plane over the Belarusian territory on July 4 was another matter entirely. It "requires a reply from Sweden and Lithuania according to international standards, and we're busy with this today," he said. "And if there is no such reply according to international norms, we'll find an adequate response to the 'plush affairs."

"Let them pray to God that our 'accommodating' Belarusians spare those flyers," Mr. Lukashenka said. "They were detected over the border immediately. We spared them. After all, this was a plywood plane. And yet this resulted in a scandal. However, this was a violation of all agreements."

"When we began to investigate—and the ambassador shouldn't fidget and claim that he is defending democracy here—[it turned out that] those who had come and made preparations for the violation of the border had worked together with the embassy," Mr. Lukashenka said. "We have evidence of this. Investigators have produced it."

The role of the Swedish embassy in the incident is yet to be investigated, he said.

Mr. Lukashenka warned that Lithuania should not sit "like mice under the broom." "They should tell us why they provided their territory for the violation of the state border," he
said. "To Lithuania, if anyone, the response won't see to be weak."