Lukashenka to skip Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels

Alyaksandr Lukashenka will not attend an Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24, the Belarusian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.


In a statement, Andrey Shuplyak, deputy head of the ministry's Information Directorate, said that Belarus would be represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey.

The official said that Minsk was grateful to the EU for inviting Mr. Lukashenka to the event, which he said "reflects progress in relations between Belarus and the EU and a transition, after a long period of differences, to a new state of cooperation with the EU as a very important neighbor."

In diplomatic practice a top-level visit is the "culmination of the sides' mutual efforts to develop cooperation, signaling the achievement of deep, systemic results that are important to the foundations of bilateral cooperation," said the statement.

Mr. Shuplyak said that Minsk and Brussels worked together to develop equal and mutually beneficial relations and held discussions on the entire spectrum of their cooperation. "The Belarusian side is interested in the removal of all EU restrictions regarding opportunities for cooperation with Belarus that have overshadowed our relations," he said, adding that Belarus and the EU were expected to start talks on a framework agreement on partnership and cooperation.

Belarus is interested to continue its involvement in the Eastern Partnership program, which "should become obviously useful for citizens of Belarus and the EU by securing easier conditions of doing business, facilitating contacts between people and ties in various spheres, and raising the level of objective knowledge about each other," said the statement.

Belarus sees the Eastern Partnership as a tool of "non-politicized cooperation that is aimed not against someone but rather at solving common problems and issues facing our region's nations and states," said Mr. Shuplyak.

Minsk would like to see the coming summit "as much depoliticized as possible," he said.

"It is these goals - the further development of relations between Belarus and the EU, the pragmatic strengthening of the Eastern Partnership and the adoption of measures that would help ease tensions in our common region instead of deepening divisions - that are the centerpiece of our stance for the Eastern Partnership summit," said Mr. Shuplyak.
Speaking last week, Mr. Makey said that the level of Belarus' representation at the summit in Brussels would be determined with consideration for the current degree of the country's cooperation with the European Union.

At the previous five summits, Belarus was represented by officials of various levels. In particular, the country was represented by Mr. Makey at the most recent Eastern Partnership summit, which was held in Riga in 2015.

Mr. Lukashenka could not attend the summits because he was on the EU's list of Belarusians subject to restrictive measures, including an entry ban, for their role in the government's crackdown on political opponents. The EU lifted restrictive measures against almost all persons on the list in February 2016.

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