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EU Downplays Lukashenka, Voronin Summit Absences

EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner
PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- The EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told RFE/RL on May 7 that the absence of the Belarusian and Moldovan presidents from the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague does not mean the countries do not want to cooperate with the EU.

She said that the EU has allowed the invited countries to decide "who they will send [and] on which level they really want to be represented."

Ferrero-Waldner said more important than which presidents attend the summit, she thinks that "it's most important to know that these countries all have shown a very clear commitment [that] they want to be here, that they want to cooperate with us."

Ferrero-Waldner added that it is "a pity" that Russia interprets the EU's moves to accommodate the wish of its neighbors to move closer to the bloc as an attempt to lay claim to a "sphere of influence."

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has said the Eastern Partnership does not go far enough in giving support to the six former Soviet countries that have joined it, while Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declined to come to Prague after Czech President Vaclav Klaus he would refuse to shake his hand.

Belarus has been dubbed by many as Europe's "last dictatorship.