EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Belarus has said it is ready to recognise the rebel enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia as independent states if Russia compensates it for harm to EU ties.
Speaking on national TV while on a visit to farms in the Minsk region on Friday (13 August), Belarus leader Aleksander Lukashenko said that he made the offer to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a meeting of the CSTO military alliance of post-Soviet countries in Sochi on 3 August.
Mr Lukashenka (r) and his Russian counterpart in a happier moment (Photo: kremlin.ru)
"I said it's not a problem for Belarus to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Not a problem. But I listed all the problems that would emerge for Belarus in this connection with the EU, the US and the CIS [a broader alliance of former Soviet states]," Mr Lukashenko said in the TV broadcast.
"Are you ready to take on the problems, including for yourself, and to help to overcome them? ...If you are not ready, then what we just talked about did not happen. That's what the conversation was like, not that Lukashenko 'solemnly promised'."
"We've been studying these [EU and US-related] problems for the past two months and we've enumerated about a dozen," he added.
The remarks come after Mr Medvedev back on 3 August reported that Mr Lukashenko had "solemnly promised" him to make the Georgia move. Moscow on Saturday hit back at Minsk by threatening to publish an official transcript of the behind-closed-doors Sochi talks to prove its point.
"We can bring clarity with a transcript of the CSTO meeting containing the remarks of Alexander Lukashenko on this topic," a senior advisor to Mr Medvedev, Sergei Prikhodko, told Russian news agencies.
The EU has over the past two years reached out to Belarus in an attempt to bolster the country's independence vis-a-vis Russia.
It has suspended a travel ban on Mr Lukashenko and top officials, organised high-level visits to Minsk and tentatively included Belarus in the Eastern Partnership policy, with Belarus delegates taking part in recent EU-led workshops on anti-corruption measures, energy security, border management and environmental protection.
A senior Lithuanian diplomat told EUobserver that if Belarus recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia EU co-operation would grind to a halt.
"Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would of course harm Belarus-EU relations and Georgia could block its participation in the Eastern Partnership. The same with the US. And Lukashenko knows it well," the source said.
"The other consequences could include [EU] visa sanctions, no more money from the IMF, the EBRD, the EIB, no new agreements with the EU and no opening of the EU market."
The contact added that the Lukashenko-Medvedev spat is a sign of Russia's frustration that its CSTO and CIS allies have left Moscow isolated on the Abkhazia and South Ossetia issue.
"I don't think that some serious new talks on recognition are going on [with Belarus]. The Russian side just seems to be losing patience," he said.