Updated at 17:11,20-07-2018

Belarus does not as yet respect democratic values or human rights


Belarus does not as yet respect democratic values or human rights, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas said in an interview given to Lithuania's news site ru.delfi.lt.

"We should talk with those in power and the opposition because Lithuania and Belarus have diverse and intense ties," Mr. Usackas said.

Lithuania is interested in an independent, stable and democratic Belarus, he noted.

"We have a neighbor that we have," Mr. Usackas said. "It will not be up to Lithuania, its citizens or leaders to decide what regime Belarus should have. We will not participate in elections [there]. This will be done by the citizens of Belarus and will depend on them."

Belarus is important for Lithuania as a market with 10 million consumers, which may hold hope for "some breakthrough" amid the economic crisis, Mr. Usackas said. "We can see Lithuanians' interest in investment in Belarus," he said. "Klaipeda, for its part, may become a gateway to Europe and the world for not only Lithuania but also Belarus."

Lithuania is Belarus' most important European Union partner from the standpoint of both the Belarusian government and the opposition, Mr. Usackas said.

There are signs that Minsk is interested in changing its foreign policy, he said. "We realize that Belarus will never be hostile to Russia, nor do we want this," he noted. "However, Belarus is obviously seeking closer ties with the EU and the West. The IMF [International Monetary Fund]'s loan, participation in the EU's Eastern Partnership program and attempts to bring relations with the United States back to normal are all steps toward civil society. Despite being insufficient, they are some kind of signals that both we and Brussels see."

Mr. Usackas expressed hope that there would an "open dialogue" during Alyaksandr Lukashenka's visit to Lithuania on September 16.

The high-profile disappearances of 1999 and 2000 will probably be discussed at Mr. Lukashenka's meeting with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, he said. Finding the kidnappers and those behind them should be a "matter of honor" for Minsk, he added.

On November 16 and 17, the EU foreign ministers will consider whether the bloc should fully lift, reimpose or extend the suspension of its sanctions against Belarusian officials, Mr. Usackas said. The sanctions will be dropped if the Belarusian government enables opposition political parties to obtain registration, releases political prisoners and democratizes electoral regulations, he said.

Belarus will be able to have "full-fledged" cooperation with the EU only when it becomes a rule-of-law country that respects human rights, does not imprison people for their political views, has free media and allows political parties to get registered and compete for power, Mr. Usackas said.