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Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 16:48 GMT
Belarus courts US foes
Fidel Castro
Castro is just one of Lukashenko's new friends
By Eurasia analyst Steven Eke

The US Ambassador to Belarus, Michael Kozak, arrived in Minsk in October 2000 - but President Alexander Lukashenko refuses to either meet him or accept his diplomatic accreditation.

Mr Kozak might have thought waiting two months for an audience with President Lukashenko was bad enough, but then came the ultimate insult.

Lukashenko
Lukashenko: Snubbing the US ambassador
He failed to invite Mr Kozak to his New Year reception, held for foreign diplomats on January 13 - the Orthodox New Year.

The snub, left without comment by the US embassy, did, however, receive attention at a news conference in the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'European Cuba'

There, a spokesman confirmed that Mr Kozak had, indeed, not been invited to the reception - and not because of of a mix-up with invitations.

The New Year in Belarus's diplomatic relations with the outside world appears to have got off to rather a bad start.

This is a disappointing state of affairs since the new Belarusian foreign minister recently announced that his country wanted to improve its very poor relations with the US and Europe.


Belarus's neighbours look on with incredulity

Mr Kozak arrived in Belarus after a spell on the Caribbean island of Cuba.

And although he undoubtedly knew what he was talking about when he compared life in communist Havana with that in post-Soviet Belarus, calling this nation of 10 million a "European Cuba", probably was not the most thoughtful thing to do publicly.

But it is not the first time President Lukashenko has demonstrated his irritation with foreign ambassadors.

Other memorable occasions include the news conference at which Mr Lukashenko produced security service transcripts of private conversations between western ambassadors in their embassies in Minsk.

Incredulity

Or the wholesale eviction - due to "essential repairs" - of western ambassadors from the Drozdy out-of-town residence.

Belarusian observers put the evictions down to Mr Lukashenko's personal displeasure at his residence being located next to those of the western diplomats.

It is a sad situation for Belarusian diplomacy, which is now reduced to accusing the US and the west in general of "dual standards" in relation to Belarus.

Instead, Belarus's envoys are busy building new links with Libya, Iraq, Cuba and Syria.

Even Belarus's neighbours look on with incredulity.

Lithuania is home to several Belarusians who have asked for asylum in the hope of avoiding the sort of persecution the Belarusian authorities dish out to those who dare criticise President Lukashenko's ways.

Poland comes in for even worse treatment, with frequent accusations from Minsk that it sends priests as "spies" and tries to foment unrest in Belarus's Polish minority.

While Minsk continues to distance itself politically from its geographic home in the centre of the European continent, Mr Kozak might find himself having to wait considerably longer for his diplomatic accreditation.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Europe
Belarus vote condemned
19 Jun 98 | Europe
Alexander Lukashenko: a profile
18 Jan 99 | Europe
EU ambassadors back to Belarus
20 Jun 98 | Europe
Troubled relations with the West
21 Jun 98 | Europe
Diplomatic stink in Belarus
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