The president of Belarus, who was once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, said on Tuesday that is country is eager for better ties with NATO in the light of talks about the price Russia charges to sell his country oil.
Alexander Lukashenko, who spent a week with President Vladimir Putin in Russia earlier this year, said at a government session on Tuesday that his country should seek “relations with NATO based on mutual respect that would help strengthen our country’s security.”
Lukashenko’s comments came amid ongoing talks with Russia over about $400 million that Belarus risks losing ever year after Russia announced a hike in oil prices for Belarus. Russia has for years been selling oil to Belarus at subsidized prices, which allowed Belarus to make hefty profits from its oil refineries, some of Europe’s largest, which then export oil products.
Lukashenko has also complained that his country’s attempts at rapprochement with the West “sometimes cause tantrums” in Russia which, he said, fears that Belarus “has turned its head somewhere else.”
“We’re in a situation where we have to turn our head around all the time… because we are situated in the middle of Europe,” he said.
Belarus’ ties with the European Union and NATO have been strained for years over a clampdown on civil rights and persecution of dissenters in the country.
As well as Russia and Ukraine, Belarus has borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which are all NATO members.
Separately, Belarus on Tuesday removed a cap on the number of U.S. diplomats in the country, which had been in place since 2008 as retaliation for U.S. sanctions against Belarusian authorities over a crackdown on opposition protests.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei who hosted U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent on Tuesday, expressed hope that this decision would help to put the relations between the two countries back on track.