‘We’re doomed’ EU urged to stay put as Belarus violent protests threaten ties with Russia

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Belarus Ambassador to Slovakia Igor Leshchenya urged the European Union to offer political support to Belarus citizens but to avoid imposing economic sanctions. Mr Leshchenya claimed the country’s ties with Russia could be at risk if the EU stepped in with sanctions, but admitted Belarus is “doomed” to remain in the middle of the two power blocs.

He said: “As for the EU I think there should be some moral support but as a Belarusian, as a person who is a patriot, of course I cannot ask for any economic sanction.

“All economic sanctions influence persons.

“There should be political support, there should be moral support.

“And the uniqueness of the situation is that it’s really a mass protest movement without a definite leader. It’s a very unique situation.”

Asked if he could see Belarus joining the EU and predict Vladimir Putin’s reaction to such a scenario, he said: “I think Belarus is doomed with very special ties with Russia. But we are doomed to be friends of the EU and the United States.

“This is the only possible policy that should be pursued.

“We are just on the border between so-called Eastern European sub-civilisation and Western European sub-civilisation.”

The European Union is considering imposing sanctions on Belarusian individuals linked to violence and election fraud, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said on Tuesday.

EU leaders will discuss the situation in Belarus on Wednesday, she said.

Massive protests have been held in the country following presidential elections widely seen as fraudulent.

“We, in Europe, think there is room for sanctions, not against the country or against the country’s citizens, but against the individuals who have instigated violence or election process fraud,” she told Spanish Radio station Onda Cero.

Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, said on Monday he would be ready to hold new elections and hand over power after a constitutional referendum, an attempt to pacify mass protests and strikes that pose the biggest challenge yet to his rule.

He made the offer, which he insisted would not be delivered on while he was under pressure from protesters, after exiled opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she was willing to lead the country.

In a sign of his growing vulnerability, Lukashenko faced heckling and chants of “step down” during a speech to workers at one of the large state-run factories that are the pride of his Soviet-style economic model and core support base.

He faces the threat of European Union sanctions after a bloody crackdown on protests following what demonstrators say was his rigged re-election victory last week. He cites official results that gave him just over 80 percent of the vote.

Officials in Washington and the EU want Russia not to meddle in what President Donald Trump called a “terrible situation”, after Moscow told Lukashenko it was ready to provide military help against an external threat.

Russia is watching closely as Belarus hosts pipelines that carry Russian energy exports to the West and is viewed by Moscow as a buffer zone against NATO. Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke twice this weekend.

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A burly former Soviet collective farm manager, Lukashenko used blunt language while speaking to workers on Monday.

“We’ve held elections,” he said. “Until you’ve killed me there won’t be any new elections.”

But he offered to change the constitution, an apparent concession that seems unlikely to satisfy protesters who say it’s something he has spoken about before.

“We’ll put the changes to a referendum, and I’ll hand over my constitutional powers. But not under pressure or because of the street,” Lukashenko said, in remarks quoted by the official Belta news agency.

“Yes, I’m not a saint. You know my harsh side. I’m not eternal. But if you drag down the first president you’ll drag down neighbouring countries and all the rest.”

He also said people could hold parliamentary and presidential elections after the referendum if that was what they wanted.

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