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EU Says 'Opportunity' For Closer Relations With Belarus


EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini talks to journalists prior to the foreign ministers' meeting in Riga.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini talks to journalists prior to the foreign ministers' meeting in Riga.

The European Union says it sees an opportunity to improve ties with Belarus after years of poor relations.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said after EU foreign ministerial talks in Riga on March 7 that "we see the opportunity to broaden and deepen relations with Belarus."

Rinkevics said the EU still has some issues with Belarus, such as Minsk's holding of political prisoners, but could move toward improved relations.

The EU has long imposed restrictive measures on Minsk for human rights violations, election fraud, and the jailing of opposition activists and politicians.

In 2012, then-German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle referred to Belarus as "the last dictatorship in the heart of Europe."

Latvia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency and will later this year host an Eastern Partnership summit with officials from Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine.

EU officials are reportedly considering inviting Lukashenka to attend for the first time.

Foreign ministers from the EU's 28 members met on March 7 for a second day, with issues related to the Ukraine crisis topping the agenda.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the ministers had agreed to a "common position" on Ukraine-related issues when the meetings ended.

'Unity To Do Nothing'

But a division of opinion among EU members on sanctions against Russia for its support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was obvious.

EU President Donald Tusk said one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "most important" goals is to "divide Europe."

As a result, Tusk said he is "obsessed" with maintaining unity among EU members on issues involving Ukraine and Russia.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said "everyone is for unity" but added that he does not like "unity to do nothing," a reference to the countries, among them Greece and Cyprus, who argue against any further sanctions against Russia.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told German broadcaster ARD that Greece is suffering from the sanctions and "the losses have to be compensated" by the EU.

No details of any agreements made on the second day of talks in Riga by the EU foreign ministers were made public.

On March 6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier agreed in a telephone conference on the need for the European security organization, the OSCE, to double the number of its monitors in Ukraine to 1,000.

Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of deploying troops and weaponry in Ukraine’s east to the support the separatists.

Despite daily evidence supporting the allegations, Moscow denies sending Russian troops or weaponry into eastern Ukraine.

Based on reporting by AP and dpa
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