Belarus President Seeks to Deploy Russia Missiles
By ALAN CULLISON
MINSK, Belarus -- President Alexander Lukashenko is in talks with Moscow about placing in Belarus advanced Iskander missiles that could hit targets deep inside Europe.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, left, who met Oct. 26 near Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, says that Belarus would like to deploy missiles even if it doesn't reach an agreement with Moscow.
The talks raise the ante in the debate over a U.S. plan to deploy missile defense in Europe. They also complicate Western hopes for warmer ties with Belarus, which some in the U.S. and Europe hope could help to counterbalance an increasingly hostile Kremlin.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lukashenko said that he would like to see closer relations with the West but that he sympathizes with Russia on two flashpoints that have rocked relations -- the conflict in Georgia and U.S. plans to place antimissile systems in Europe to counter a potential threat from Iran.
Mr. Lukashenko said he "absolutely supports" Russia's plans to place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad that would target the U.S. missile system. Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave in Europe that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and missiles there could reach the proposed U.S. missile sites in Poland.
Mr. Lukashenko said Russia also had proposed putting Iskander missiles in Belarus, which is situated between Russia and Poland. And if a deal on the issue isn't reached, Belarus itself would like to deploy the missiles, he said.
"Even if Russia does not offer these promising missiles, we will purchase them ourselves," said Mr. Lukashenko, who said the technology for the Iskander optics and fire-control systems comes from Belarus. "Right now we do not have the funds, but it is part of our plans -- I am giving away a secret here -- to have such weapons."
Analysts said it is far from clear that Russia would really need to place missiles inside Belarus. The Kremlin has offered to give up its Kaliningrad plans if Washington drops its missile-defense system. Mr. Lukashenko's missile ambitions also could be a bargaining chip in his maneuvering between Russia and the West.
Though closely allied with and heavily dependent on Moscow, Mr. Lukashenko, a former collective-farm boss who has kept a tight grip on Belarus since he was elected president 14 years ago, has resisted the Kremlin's embrace.
But financial necessity may be tugging harder at Minsk than before. On Wednesday, Russia announced that it agreed to grant Belarus a $2 billion stabilization loan to shore up the government's finances, which have been strained by the credit crisis.
Under loan terms, Belarus agreed to pay for future oil and gas debts in rubles, a major priority of the Kremlin, which has sought to expand the use of the Russian currency beyond its borders.
Advisers to Mr. Lukashenko said he has lately put out feelers to improve relations with the U.S. and Europe, which slapped his government with sanctions in 2006 after he was accused of rigging his re-election. Sanctions were eased this year, after Mr. Lukashenko ordered the release of some political prisoners.
Like other leaders of former Soviet states, he has resisted Moscow pressure to side with the Kremlin in its conflict with Georgia by recognizing the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. So far the only countries to confer recognition are Russia and Nicaragua.
But he signaled he may tip toward Moscow on the issue and echoed Russia's argument that the West paved the way for the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions by recognizing Kosovo.
Original article posted here.
Lukashenko, in His Own Words
Below, excerpts from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's interview with The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. The interview was conducted in Russian, and translated by the Journal.
On the release of political opponent Alexander Kozulin earlier this year:
"The West perceived this as some kind of step toward democracy. You are welcome, thank you very much. You know, strictly between us, sometimes I think if they could find five or six more political prisoners here and told us to free them, and that then perhaps we would make a few more steps forward, we would do it readily. We could free even more. But they haven't found any more."
On the possibility of recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia:
"If you [the West] recognized Kosovo, why not recognize Abkhazia? I don't see any problems here. There is a precedent[hellip] Europe and America understand our position and our situation. And I will be honest, they are no longer pushing it as rigidly with us as before. So I don't think there would be negative repercussions for our relations or the like. I think this question is finished. It is no longer as acute as it was two months ago."
On the financial crisis:
"And I warned the Americans and others. No one listened to me. As it turned out, I was right. Now in America they are talking about an alternative to this ultraliberal market system, where everything is allowed, where you can eat more than what you make, and spend more than what you earn."
On Barack Obama:
"I look at Obama, a young man, a good-looking person. That is my first impression, I feel sorry for him. He looks 100% like Lukashenko, when I came to power after the downfall of the Soviet Union. The store shelves were empty, a severe financial crisis."