By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that the U.S. “military and political role” in Europe is crucial to regional security and emphasized that he does not want a Russian military base in his country.
Lukashenka, who frequently mixes praise and criticism of both the West and Belarus’s giant eastern neighbor, Russia, was speaking to a group of U.S. experts and analysts in Minsk on November 6.
“The Belarusian armed forces are capable of providing security and performing their duties much better than any other country, including the Russian Federation,” Lukashenka said.
“That is why today I see no need to invite some other countries, including Russia, to the territory of Belarus, to perform our duties. That is why we are absolutely against having foreign military bases, especially military air bases,” he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans to station warplanes in Belarus in 2013, but they have not been deployed and the issue remains under discussion.
In January 2018, media reports in Russia and Belarus said that a Russian Air Force regiment that Moscow had planned to station in Belarus would instead be located in Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad.
Lukashenka told his audience that Belarus was “a European country” that is interested in “a strong and united Europe,” adding that Europe today is “a major pillar of our planet.”
“God forbid somebody ruins it…. We are certain that regional security [in Europe] depends on the cohesion of the region’s states and preservation of the United States’ military and political role in the European arena,” Lukashenka said.
“Belarus is eager to build an equal dialogue with all sides via reinstating normal ties with the United States, supporting good neighborly ties with the European Union, and widening partnership with NATO,” he said. “We support more openness and development of mutual understanding in order to strengthen regional security.”
An authoritarian leader who has ruled Belarus since 1994, Lukashenka has sought to strike a balance between Russia, which he depicts as both an ally and a threat, and the EU and NATO to the west. He has stepped up his emphasis on Belarusian sovereignty and expressions of concern about Moscow’s intentions since Russia seized Crimea and backed armed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The EU eased sanctions against Belarus in 2016 after the release of several people considered political prisoners, but has criticized Lukashenka’s government for a violent clampdown on demonstrators protesting an unemployment tax in March 2017.
Belarus and Russia are joined in a union state that exists mainly on paper, and their militaries have close ties — though Lukashenka has resisted Russian efforts to beef up its military presence in Belarus, which lies between Russia and the NATO states.
The countries have held joint military exercises including the major Zapad-2017 (West-2017) war games.
Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, regional groupings observers say Russian President Vladimir Putin uses to seek to bolster Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU and NATO.