EU warns Belarus it needs to conduct reforms in order to improve ties

By: Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus - Belarus must accept a "roadmap of reforms" to improve ties with the European Union, a top EU official said Friday.

Stefan Fule, the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, said the EU expects Belarus to abolish the death penalty, end repression and conduct democratic presidential elections next year.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron hand since 1994, stifling dissent and free media, told Fule the ex-Soviet nation wouldn't bow to the EU demands. He told Fule Friday that Belarus "wouldn't fall on its knees before you, Russia or the United States."

Lukashenko's relations with Moscow, his main sponsor, have recently turned sour amid economic disputes and Lukashenko has sought to improve ties with the West.

"We find ourselves squeezed between you and Russia, and it feels hard. But we won't come down on our knees," Lukashenko said at a meeting with Fule.

Some analysts saw Lukashenko's overtures to the U.S. and the EU as an attempt to force Russia to increase subsidies to Belarus' ailing economy. If that had been Lukashenko's plan, it didn't work.

Russia last month partially cut natural gas supplies to Belarus for three days over its debt for previous deliveries, finally forcing its neighbour to pay. Moscow also has rejected Lukashenko's push for lower duties for Russian oil supplies to Belarus under a customs union between the neighbours.

"Lukashenko has been driven into a corner, he must either take a chance offered by Brussels, or find himself in isolation both in the East and in the West," said Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent Minsk-based political analyst.


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