Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has used an annual address to warn the West against meddling in his country's affairs and hit out at Moscow, suggesting Russia is seeking to dominate a trade grouping of former Soviet republics.
In the wide-ranging televised speech to parliament on April 21, Lukashenka employed a mixture of warm words and tough talk targeting both Russia and Europe -- at one point using crude language to suggest that Western countries are weak.
An authoritarian leader who has ruled Belarus since 1994, Lukashenka has sought to strike a balance between its eastern neighbor Russia, which he depicts as both an ally and a threat, and the EU to the west.
This year's address came weeks after a fence-mending April 3 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which they said they had resolved disputes over natural-gas and oil supplies, a frequent source of discord.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Lukashenka in St. Petersburg on April 3.
Lukashenka said that Belarus has a "strategic" relationship with Russia and, without using Putin's name, said he and "the Russian president" have "established trusting ties."
But be said that it has proven difficult to "establish equal, mutually respectful ties" among the members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES), which comprises Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan.
"We are constantly engaged in disputes," he said, adding that members have accused one another of launching price wars and have been "unable to share" funds in a common pool.
"We all have to understand the main thing: the Eurasian market is not the market of one of the countries.... It is our common, self-sufficient market, which we must develop in order to withstand any sanctions and come out winners," Lukashenka said.
Observers say Putin seeks to use the EES to bolster Moscow's influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU.
At the same time, Lukashenka said Belarus has a "strategic" relationship with Russia and that he and "the Russian president" have "established trusting ties."
"We solve all the problems that emerge," Lukashenka said.
Turning to the West, he said he hopes ties with the European Union will reach "a qualitatively higher level" by the end of 2017.
He said cooperation with the EU is "a key to investments, modern technologies, resources, and greater markets" for the nation of 9.6 million.
However, he said that "full cooperation in all spheres" is possible only if European nations stop placing "preliminary conditions" and criticizing his domestic policies.
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.
People protest increased costs for community services and new taxes in Minsk on March 15.
He accused the EU of double-standards, asserting that some of the countries that have criticized his use of force against crowds have done the same, and he also suggested that European countries are not tough enough to ensure security for their citizens.
Suggesting that Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was living in cushy conditions in prison and escaping adequate punishment, he said of European governments: "They are lacking something in the lower body area."
Lukashenka also had words of caution for the United States.
"The latest developments in Syria, the growing tension on the Korean Peninsula cause, first of all, concerns regarding whether Washington will be able to overcome the temptation to try to dictate its will to the rest of the world again," he said.
Lukashenka said that Belarus would continue to develop close military ties with Russia but also wants to increase cooperation with NATO.
"It is in Belarus' interests to gradually deepen the dialogue with the NATO military alliance. That is important to decrease potential risks linked to the appearance of the NATO structures next to our borders," Lukashenka said.
Lukashenka, who has hosted talks aimed to end the war in between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, ambitiously offered to host what he said should be "a new wide-scaled dialogue between East and West."
With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service and BelTA