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US Won’t Recognize New Bid To Unite Belarus, Russia December 20, 2006

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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MINSK, Belarus (AP)–The U.S. ambassador to Belarus Tuesday said Washington would not recognize the results of a proposed referendum that would move Belarus and Russia closer to uniting.

Karen Stewart, the U.S. envoy to this tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic, said the referendum would be undemocratic, given Belarus’ authoritarian government.

Karen Stewart said that the U.S. would not recognize any such vote.

“Given today’s situation in Belarus, no referendum can be held that would convince us that this was the free will of the Belarusian people,” she told reporters.

Despite years of pronouncements and on-again, off-again talks, the proposed Russia-Belarus Union remains largely on paper. Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has rejected a Kremlin-proposed merger plan and negotiations on creating a single currency have stalled.

Earlier Tuesday, Pavel Borodin, the head of the proposed union, called for holding a referendum on uniting the two countries, saying 2007 would be “decisive for the building of the unified state.”

Lukashenko has become a pariah in the West for cracking down on dissent and extending his rule through flawed votes. Moscow has been Belarus’ main sponsor and ally.

However the Kremlin has lately been keeping more of a distance from Minsk and tensions have built up in recent years.

Lukashenko’s government has been rattled by Moscow’s recent proposals to hike oil and natural gas prices for Belarus, which has long benefited from substantial Kremlin subsidies. The move echoes similar increases sought by Moscow in other ex-Soviet republics, like Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Stewart repeated the position shared in Washington and other Western capitals that accused Russia of using its vast energy resources as a weapon.

“In our dialogue with Russia, we continue to push our point of view that a democratic Belarus would be a better neighbor and a better friend both for Russia and for us,” she said.

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