Updated at 08:51,22-02-2019

Lukashenka Says Belarus Will Never Be Part Of Russia

RFE/RL

Lukashenka Says Belarus Will Never Be Part Of Russia
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka reacts during a meeting with the media in Minsk on December 14.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says his country will never be part of the Russian Federation.

Speaking to Russian journalists in Minsk on December 14, Lukashenka said that "sovereignty is sacred" for Belarus.

"If someone wants to break [Belarus] into regions and force us to become a subject of Russia, that will never happen," Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka accused Moscow of attempting "to incorporate" Belarus into Russia using oil and gas leverage.

"I understand the hints [by Moscow] saying, 'OK, take our oil but for that destroy your statehood and become part of Russia'... It is useless to blackmail Belarus, to bend it, [to choke us]," Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka also criticized Russian media for presenting Ukraine's pro-Western leadership as enemies.

"I know Ukrainians. They are not enemies. They are not as bad as you present them on your [television] channels. It is time to stop doing that. Nobody [believes] that anymore," Lukashenka said.

Belarus and Russia are joined in a Union State that exists mainly on paper, and their militaries have close ties -- though Lukashenka has resisted Russian efforts to beef up its military presence in Belarus, which lies between Russia and NATO countries.

Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), regional groupings that observers say Russian President Vladimir Putin uses in an effort bolster Moscow's influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU and NATO.

Wariness about Moscow's intentions toward its neighbors has risen since Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and began supporting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where the ensuing war has killed more than 10,300 people.