Updated at 20:13,20-03-2018

Russia supports Belarus wish to normalize relations with West, ambassador says

By Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Russia understands and supports the wish of Belarus to bring its relations with the West back to normal, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Surikov told reporters in Minsk on Friday.

"Russia is not alarmed by Belarus attempts to repair its relations with the European Union," Ambassador Surikov said. "Belarus is a European country, and its relations with neighbors cannot stay the way they are now."

At the same time, the EU requires too much of Belarus by demanding freedom for the so-called political prisoners and a moratorium on the death penalty, Mr. Surikov said. Even the word "requirements" sounds wrong when applied to an independent country, he said. The Belarusian government cannot release its imprisoned opponents as "political prisoners" because they were formally convicted of criminal offenses and not for political reasons, he said. "How can you release them?" he said. "De facto admit that the countrys regulations and constitution were violated? Such things dont happen."

As for the moratorium on the death penalty, the EU demands it despite the fact that a majority of the Belarusians voted in favor of capital punishment in a 1996 referendum, Mr. Surikov said.

However, both Europe and Belarus realize that it is necessary to go from demands to talks, he said. They have not yet started a dialogue, but they have begun preparations for it, he said.

Mr. Surikov stressed that Russia does not feel any "jealousy" but would be alarmed if such a dialogue drove a wedge between itself and Belarus. However, both European and Belarusian politicians understand that relations with the EU and cooperation with Russia should not be viewed as mutually exclusive, he said.

Mr. Surikov welcomed that he called a change in the behavior of the Belarusian foreign ministry. It is good that its representatives meet with Minsk-based Western diplomats more frequently, he said.