Lukashenka defends cautious stance on Crimea

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has defended his cautious reaction to the annexation of Ukraine\'s Crimea by Russia.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has defended his cautious reaction to the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by Russia.

Speaking to a large group of Russian journalists in Minsk on Friday, Mr. Lukashenka warned against putting pressure on him to recognize the peninsula's much-criticized absorption by Russia as legitimate.

The Belarusian leader recalled his refusal to recognize de jure the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to him, it was Abkhazia's then president who reassured him on the matter. "He told me, 'It makes no difference whether or not you recognize us, you will only cause problems for yourself - both with the West and others [if you do]'," he said.

Mr. Lukashenka reiterated that Moscow had refused to pledge compensation to Belarus for Western sanctions that it could be hit with if it recognized the breakaway regions. "Russia did not want to have a dispute with the West because of Belarus," he said.

"So don't pound me like you did on Abkhazia," he stressed, referring to a barrage of criticism that he had faced in Russia for not recognizing the region as an independent state.

Mr. Lukashenka said that he had sent a government delegation to Crimea after its annexation by Russia to check whether the region needed assistance from Belarus. "There was an awful situation there. I said that we of course needed to help them," he said.

According to Mr. Lukashenka, "certain leaders" in Russia are even afraid to say the word "Crimea." "Many of them have money and property in the West. They are afraid to supply what is needed by Crimea. And I have sent a government delegation there. What is more important? Empty talk or specific actions?" he said.

Mr. Lukashenka indicated that Minsk would make a formal decision on the recognition of Crimea's annexation in the future.

He added, "During talks with Putin I expressed my stance, said what one needed to do there, what I would do. But I can't say this today."