Belarus' president said he was willing to work with the European Union and the United States, but warned they should not to expect him to leave office or to abandon ties with Moscow.

The comments made by President Alexander Lukashenko late on Thursday struck notes of both cooperation and defiance. Lukashenko has often been characterized in the West as Europe's last dictator, suppressing opposition politicians and independent news media. But in recent months he has adopted reforms that resulted in the EU lifting sanctions such as a travel ban for Belarusian officials; Belarus also has joined the EU's Eastern Partnership program.

"I would like to warn the Europeans that are mistaken if they think they can permanently place terms upon us because relations between Belarus and Russia supposedly have been spoiled," he said during a visit to the Vitebsk region, referring to increasing tensions with Moscow.

Belarus was once seen as little more than a client state of Russia, and 1996 the two former Soviet republics signed a union agreement and pledged to move toward a merger into a single state.

That effort has since fizzled, and this year Lukashenko accused Russia of trying to take over his nation's industries and destroy its sovereignty.

He was a notable no-show at a June summit of the Russia-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization alliance, and has also refrained from echoing Moscow's recognition of two separatist Georgian regions as independent.

At the same time, Belarus has made gestures toward meeting U.S. criticisms, including releasing political prisoners. Relations with Washington remain troubled, however, after the U.S. pulled its ambassador from Belarus in 2008 following Belarus' withdrawal of its ambassador.
"We're ready to work with the Europeans and with the Americans," Lukashenko said Thursday. "But if the West thinks that power can be taken from the current authorities through some kind of manipulation and given over to the opposition, nothing will come of it."

Lukashenko's relations with the Kremlin have eroded since the 2000 election of Vladimir Putin as president. Putin, now the Russian prime minister, had made it clear that Moscow would be the dominant partner in any future union with Belarus. Lukashenko apparently hoped to become the new unified country's leader.

President says Belarus ready to work with West - Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review