LONDON (AP) — Belarus wants to strengthen its economic ties to the West and could even help it bypass Russia's ban on some Western foods by reprocessing EU products.
Belarus' Economy Minister Nikolai Snopkov made the statement in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of a Friday investment conference in London, saying that if the Ukrainian crisis continues, "it will drag Belarus to cooperate more with the Western countries."
Snopkov said in Wednesday's interview that Moscow, which has faced Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine, would not object to Belarus expanding its ties with the West.
"Our colleagues and our partners from the Eurasian Economic Community" — the Moscow-dominated trade bloc — "do not mind Belarus linking together with the European partners," Snopkov said, speaking through a translator.
Snopkov suggested that Belarus could help ease the sting of sanctions on European food products imposed by Moscow by importing them, processing them, and shipping them across its eastern border. Russia and other Eurasian Economic Community members "are ready to see Belarus processing milk, vegetables, fruits, food from the European countries and re-export it or export it to the partners in the Eurasian Economic (Community,)" he said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose government long has been targeted by U.S. and EU economic and travel sanctions over its crackdown on opposition and independent media, has managed to improve his credentials in the West thanks to hosting Ukrainian peace talks that produced a fragile cease-fire deal.
Friday's investment conference is part of his government's effort to raise foreign interest in Belarus' largely state-controlled economy. In the same interview, Deputy Finance Minister Maksim Yermalovich said there was even talk of listing Belarusian companies on the London or the New York Stock Exchange.
Belarus Investment Forum: http://investinbelarus.by/en/invest/forumLondon/
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li