Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has used an annual address to criticize both the West and Russia, accusing Western countries of "inciting trade wars" and charging that Moscow has blocked Belarusian goods from the Russian market.
In the wide-ranging televised speech to parliament on April 24, Lukashenka also handed Russia a coded warning against "isolation" and signaled that badly strained ties between Moscow and the West will not stop Belarus from seeking closer relations with the European Union and United States.
In "the current difficult situation the world has entered, Belarusians must stay strong to preserve unity and stability," the authoritarian leader said.
The address was in line with previous speeches in which Lukashenka, who has been president since 1994, has said that solidarity is needed in the face of what he casts as threats to Belarus from both east and west.
"The United States led by its strict protectionist interests launched [a trade war] against China. Along with that there is a wide-scale sanctions war against Russia," Lukashenka said.
"And look at those milk, meat, and sugar wars our closest partner has launched against us in order to block our goods from entering the Russian market," he added.
Apparently referring to Russia and Western countries including the United States, Lukashenka said that "the world's leading countries" were "fighting for their places in the world's hierarchy," which "leads to increased tension and confrontation."
"National selfishness, ignoring the interests of their partners and even allies, egocentrism, violation of international norms are turning into inseparable parts of the policies of the world's leading players," Lukashenka said.
But he said that although the confrontation between bigger powers might affect Belarus, his country will remain open for cooperation with everyone, suggesting that the ongoing standoff between Russia and the West will not affect what he says are Minsk's attempts to improve ties with the EU and the United States.
"The level of our political contacts with the European Union and widening of our mutual economic interaction are visible. We have to use the constructive potential of the EU's Eastern Partnership to its maximum," Lukashenka said, talking up ties with the EU at a time when Russia has been hit by mounting sanctions amid disputes with the West over its actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
"The sanction wars will inevitably ricochet and hit us as well. Either via trade or financial structures we will feel it. But we will not shut ourselves off from the outer world," Lukashenka said. In a warning to Russia, he added, "No country, even one from the list of the great countries, can be successful if it becomes isolated from others."
Stuck In The Middle
An authoritarian leader who has ruled Belarus since 1994, Lukashenka has sought to strike a balance between eastern neighbor Russia, which he depicts as both an ally and a threat, and the EU to the west.
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 some Russian efforts to beef up its military presence in Belarus, which lies between Russia and the NATO nations.
Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union 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.
Lukashenka, who has hosted talks aimed to end the war in between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, has ambitiously offered to host what he said should be "a new wide-scale dialogue between East and West."