Lukashenko vows to defend Belarusian independence
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said his country was “being forced into integration” with Russia while vowing to defend the “sovereignty and independence” of the country he runs with an iron fist.
Belarus has been in alliance with Russia in return for 80 per cent of its crude and natural gas supplies at domestic prices.
Lukashenko said in January that he wanted to reduce Belarusian dependency on Russian supplies to about 40 per cent and secure supplies from other countries.
“We remain committed, as always, to real integration without being forced into integration,” Lukashenko told Mikhail Myasnikovich, chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission.
Russia, which is pushing for deeper political integration, has turned off energy supplies since New Year’s Eve.
Talks with Russia on closer economic ties have stalled and Lukashenko has repeatedly accused his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, of demanding a merger with Russia.
The creation of a new state is seen by some observers as a strategy for Putin to stay in power beyond the end of his presidential term in 2024.
Lukashenko said Belarus agreed to the “real integration” of the neighbours in the 1990s under then president Boris Yeltsin while maintaining “sovereignty and independence”.
“Back then, we never talked about someone losing their sovereignty and independence. With all the difficulties back then, we managed to find solutions for complicated issues,” Lukashenko said.
Belarus is due to hold a presidential election this year. In 1997, Russia and Belarus signed a union treaty to establish close ties but did not form a single state.
Belarus says it plans to offer its first euro-denominated bond and the longest debt in US dollars to reduce its dependence on Russia.
The repressive state is rated B with a stable outlook at S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings. It plans to meet investors in the US, Frankfurt and London on March 2 and has hired Citigroup, Raiffeisen Bank, Societe Generale and Renaissance Capital to arrange the sale.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a visit in January, said Washington would restore staff numbers at its embassy, after a heavy reduction in 2008 when the US imposed sanctions over human rights abuses.
But he said it was too early to lift the remaining US sanctions on Belarus, despite progress on human rights.
In September the US and Belarus agreed to appoint ambassadors for the first time since 2008 and Pompeo said the appointment would be made soon.
Belarus also failed to secure a US$600-million loan from Russia and targeted raising US$1.35 billion through the international bond markets this year.
But the coronavirus has limited global bond issuance to a trickle and Russia’s EuroChem Group and OJSC State Transport also said they would sell bonds internationally alongside Belarus.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko skies in Sochi with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Picture credit: Kremlin