Monday, March 23, 2009

Russian foreign minister accuses EU of putting pressure on Belarus over Georgia's breakaway regions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday accused the European Union of exercising pressure on Minsk over the recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions. The minister was speaking at the annual Brussels Forum in the Belgian capital, which was attended by prominent politicians and experts.

"When my good friend Karel Schwarzenberg publicly says that if Belarus recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia it could forget about Eastern Partnership, is it blackmail or is it democracy at work?" AFP quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg warned in February that if Minsk recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, its participation in the European Union's Eastern Partnership program would be unlikely.

The leaders of the European Union member states, at a March 20 summit in Brussels, endorsed the program that is aimed at strengthening the EU's ties with six ex-Soviet states, which, apart from Belarus, include Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Moldova.

The program is to be launched at a summit in Prague on May 7. The European Union has not yet made up its mind on whether to invite Alyaksandr Lukashenko to the summit.

Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 following Georgia's attack on South Ossetia to regain control of the breakaway region and Russia's subsequent military intervention. Nicaragua has been the only country to follow Russia's lead in recognizing the independence of the two republics.

Belarus' House of Representatives is expected to consider recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states on April 2, when the first plenary meeting of its spring session is to be held. The House received a recognition appeal from the parliament of South Ossetia on December 1 and a similar appeal from the legislature of Abkhazia a little earlier.

Mr. Lukashenko has said on many occasions that he has left this matter to the discretion of the parliament.

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