Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Belarus and EU should aim for dialogue and constructive cooperation, foreign minister says

Alyaksey Areshka, BelaPAN

Belarus and the European Union should slightly change their policies regarding each other, stop making unfounded accusations and aim for a dialogue and constructive cooperation, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey told the Baltic News Service (BNS) on Saturday.

Eastern Partnership countries were constantly told during the Third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius last November that they should imitate Ukraine, Mr. Makey said. However, representatives of the European Parliament visited Kyiv on February 22 and 23 and subsequently described the country as a dictatorship under Viktor Yanukovych's rule, he said.

Mr. Makey said that Belarus would like to have "normal relations" with the EU but had never announced plans to join the bloc as soon as possible. At the same time, nothing can be ruled out in the long term, he said.

Mr. Makey said that Belarus would like to develop trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation with the EU and make a contribution to European security. Gradually, the people of Belarus will find themselves increasingly attracted to the EU, he said. He contrasted Belarus with Baltic countries, "which have never left Europe, so to speak, while we lived in the Soviet Union for a long time and were more oriented toward the East."

Mr. Makey stressed that while seeking "very close ties with the EU," Belarus had no intention of turning its back on Russia.

Brussels should understand that it needs an independent, sovereign and indivisible Belarus, an "island of stability and security," he said.

Speaking about his meeting with Latvian counterpart, Edgars Rinkevics, in Riga on February 27, Mr. Makey denied an allegation by Mr. Rinkevics that Belarus had political prisoners. According to Mr. Makey, he called for on the EU to lift its sanctions against "243 individuals and 32 enterprises." He noted that the EU's blacklists for some war-torn countries were much shorter than its list of Belarusian individuals and companies subject to travel bans and asset freezes.

Nevertheless, the prospects of cooperation between Belarus and the EU and "normal," Mr. Makey said. He indicated that so-called political prisoners would be released if they asked Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a presidential pardon.

When asked about the fate of Ales Byalyatski, a human rights defender in prison for allegedly evading taxes, and Mr. Lukashenka's recent statement that he might be released providing that his debt had really been paid off, Mr. Makey said that authorities were conducting a probe but he could not guarantee anything.