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Lukashenka Urges Belarusians To Learn From Ukraine's 'Mistakes'

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka delivers his annual message to the Belarusian people and National Assembly in Minsk on April 22.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka delivers his annual message to the Belarusian people and National Assembly in Minsk on April 22.
In his annual address to the nation, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has told Belarusians to "learn from the mistakes" of their neighbors.

Lukashenka specifically mentioned Ukraine, saying the neighboring country is in crisis for two reasons -- "a weak economy and pervasive corruption."

This echoes previous remarks Lukashenka has made about how the Ukrainians had brought the current crisis on themselves by allowing years of corrupt leadership.

The Belarusian president compared the situation in Ukraine and Belarus, saying that the West helped Ukraine and Kyiv had to listen because of its weak economy. He added that the West had tried to do the same in Belarus but the "authorities did not give in."

Belarus, Lukashenka said, was much calmer than Ukraine with "no riots, robberies, or killing" and vowed to root out corruption in Belarus by "burning with a white-hot iron" those involved in corrupt practices.

He also said he would "nip any expressions of radicalism in the bud" and that "every person who calls for a rebellion is an enemy of the entire nation."

Russian Speakers

The Belarusian president defended the status of Russian as a state language in Belarus, saying, "If we lose the Russian language, we will lose our minds." Russian is the dominant language spoken across all of Belarus.
INFOGRAPHIC: Ties To Russian Across The Region

Belarus has been characteristically careful in its response to the crisis in Ukraine.

Lukashenka has said Russia’s annexation of Crimea was a "bad precedent," but acknowledged that the region is now a "de facto" part of Russia. Belarus was one of 11 states to vote against a UN resolution on March 27 criticizing Russia's annexation of Crimea.

"When it comes to recognizing or not recognizing [the annexation of Crimea], Crimea is not an independent state unlike Ossetia or Abkhazia. Crimea today is a part of Russian territory. You can recognize or not recognize that, but this will change absolutely nothing," Lukashenka said ahead of the UN vote.

Lukashenka, who has been in power for nearly two decades, has been criticized by the West for his crackdown on the opposition and free speech and for holding unfair elections.

Belarus heavily relies on economic and military support from Russia.

The country's capital, Minsk, is getting ready to host the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Championship on 9-25 May.

Commenting on the upcoming event at the press conference, Lukashenka said that all tourists should be smiling. He added, though, that some people would not just come for the tournament but to "dig deeper" and "look for dirt."

PHOTO GALLERY: Minsk gets spruced up for World Championship.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax
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