Calling for a "Europe without borders," Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko warned yesterday that his country will not be forced into choosing between good relations with either the European Union or Russia.
"We want to be a bridge between the East and West ... Why should we get rid of our relationship with Russia? Who would benefit from that?" Lukshenko said at a Lithuanian-Belorussian business forum in the Lithuanian capital.
"I want the Europeans to understand we cannot be pushed about or made to do anything we don't want to," he added.
His country stood "on the threshold of accession to the European Union", he said.
Lukashenko praised his country's economic achievements and called for the EU to reduce the cost of visas for Belorussians wanting to visit.
"If you don't like Lukashenko, fine. You can take action against Lukashenko, but not against the Belorussian people," he said.
Standing in front of the flags of Lithuania, Belarus and the European Union, he said that the efforts of all countries should be to create a "Europe without borders".
Earlier, Lukashenko met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius' Old Town.
His motorcade swept past a small demonstration staged by pro-democracy activists outside the palace.
Protesters taped their mouths closed and displayed banners saying "Free political prisoners" and "Where is Gonchar?"
Viktor Gonchar is a Belorussian opposition leader who disappeared in mysterious circumstances 10 years ago.
Lukashenko's two-day visit to Vilnius is his second foreign trip since an EU-imposed travel ban was lifted in April, after which he visited Italy and the Vatican.
Belarus was included in the EU's Eastern Partnership plan in May. The plan aims to improve relations between the EU and its neighbours in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
Lukashenko's visit has been criticized by Lithuanian human rights groups and Belorussian opposition figures, who claim that welcoming him into the EU legitimizes his authoritarian rule.