Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has hailed the improvement of relations between his country and the European Union, saying he sees economic ties to be the "foundation" of Minsk’s partnership with the bloc.
Lukashenka made the comments in Minsk on June 21 during a meeting with Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations.
"Talks about democracy, freedom of speech, political prisoners, abolishing capital punishment are surely necessary, we keep those issues on the agenda, taking about them boldly and openly," the Belarusian president said.
But Lukashenka insisted that "the foundations of our ties are trade, economic, and financial ties."
"We decided to go toward each other, to revive our friendly partner relations," he also said, while Hahn said the EU and Belarus had to develop trustful relations in recent years, according to Belarusian news agencies.
The EU introduced restrictive measures against Belarus in 2004 in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman, and one journalist.
The European Council adopted further sanctions in the wake of a crackdown that followed December 2010 presidential election.
But in February 2016, the EU lifted most sanctions against Minsk-- asset freezes and visa bans on 170 Belarusians, including Lukashenka and senior officials, and restrictive measures against 14 companies.
It said the sanctions were lifted "in response to the release of all Belarusian political prisoners on [August 22, 2016] and in the context of improving EU-Belarus relations."