Pro-Ukraine demonstrators in Belarus assail Russian policy

AP News
Posted: Mar 25, 2015 2:39 PM
Pro-Ukraine demonstrators in Belarus assail Russian policy

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — About 2,000 opposition activists marched Wednesday through the Belarusian capital to condemn Russia's policy and express solidarity with Ukraine.

Demonstrators carried a placard reading "Russia is War," a reference to Moscow's support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The rally in Minsk was approved by the authorities and police didn't intervene.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has forged close economic, political and military ties with Russia, which has supported the ally with cheap energy and other subsidies. Lukashenko has ruled the nation of 10 million with an iron hand for more than 20 years, drawing Western criticism for his relentless crackdown on dissent and independent media.

But Belarus' ties with the West have improved recently as Minsk hosted crucial Ukraine peace talks, and Lukashenko has openly criticized some of Moscow's moves.

The Belarusian leader recently accused Moscow of violating the rules of the Eurasian Economic Union, a newly created alliance of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. He warned that Belarus could leave the union if the agreements on forming the alliance aren't observed.

Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, who unsuccessfully challenged Lukashenko in 2006, said that the rally reflected fears of Russia's intentions. "We are seriously worried and are seeing our historic chance only with the European Union," he said.

Inga Shakhnovich, a 19-year old student waving Ukrainian flag, said she fears that Belarus could become Russia's next victim. "Ukraine is fighting for our independence too," she said.