Belarus PM Thanks Armenia For Support

By Shakeh Avoyan

Belarus's visiting Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky thanked Armenia on Monday for supporting his country, increasingly ostracized by the West for its poor democracy and human rights records, in the international arena.

"Belarus supports Armenia in international affairs and we thanked Armenia for supporting Belarus in international affairs," Sidorsky said after holding talks with Armenian leaders on the first day of his official visit to Yerevan.

Although Sidorsky did not elaborate, he seemed to be alluding to Armenia's refusal to join the United States and the European Union in condemning the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Official Yerevan has repeatedly sided with Russia in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international bodies to vote against resolutions criticizing Lukashenko's intolerance of dissent and reported human rights abuses.

Lukashenko, known for his tough anti-Western rhetoric, faced renewed international criticism as recently as last March over his handling of a controversial presidential election which OSCE observers denounced as undemocratic. President Robert Kocharian reportedly congratulated him on his hotly disputed reelection.

Meeting with his Belarusian counterpart, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said Armenian-Belarusian ties have been cemented by what he described as a "warm personal rapport" existing between the two presidents. "Cooperation between the two states and the two governments is proceeding very well," Markarian told an ensuing news conference. "I am very satisfied with our negotiations."

The talks appeared to have focused on bilateral economic ties, with the two premiers praising a steep increase in Armenian-Belarusian trade reported by them in the last few years. But they both admitted that its volume remains modest in absolute terms.

Markarian and Sidorsky said nothing about ongoing military cooperation between the two ex-Soviet states aligned in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Armenia and Belarus are bound by bilateral agreements that allow for mutual arms supplies.

Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev reaffirmed his country's interest in the developing "mutually beneficial" military ties with Armenia as he visited Yerevan in December last year. According to Kocharian's office, Maltsev and Armenian leaders discussed "prospects for deepening" those ties.