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MINSK, September 12 /TASS/. Belarus is ready to develop relations with Russia and build mutually beneficial cooperation with the West, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman.
"The West and Russia need Belarus and we need them," the Belarusian president stressed.
He called on some critics in Russia not to reproach Belarus for its relations with the European Union. Lukashenko said that during his meetings with EU and U.S. representatives he asked them not to force Belarus to choose between the West and Russia. "Do not ask us with whom we are - the West or Russia. Do not put it this way," Lukashenko said.
He said that Western countries were hi-tech states. "Economy is part of our country’s life. So is it possible for us not to have any relations with them?" the Belarusian president asked.
"Relations with the European Union and the West are very important for us but they should be decent," Lukashenko stressed.
The Belarusian president said that in its time the West offered him to turn away from Russia in exchange of sanctions relief.
"But we did not agree to that. So when I was confronted with that question, I said; ‘I do not trade my friendship with the Russians. That was my response to the West," Lukashenko said.
"Therefore, do not snub us for talking to the West. Do not push us in Russia’s direction," he said.
"We have found ourselves at this crossroads at the twist of fate and we will live here," Lukashenko explained.
The president went on to say that granting equal rights to Belarus’ and Russia’s citizens was beneficial for both countries helping them strengthen inter-state ties and bringing their peoples closer together.
"We have taken a lot of decisions to equalize Belarusian and Russians in rights," Lukashenko said, citing as an example the situation in the sphere of education. "Our people, citizens of both Russia and Belarus, can study at universities and schools in either of the two countries," he noted.
He said Russia has never been alien to him. "There is no difference for me between a Russia and a Belarusian," he said.
At the same time, he stressed he has never set Belarusians in opposition to Russians. "These are kindred nations. Someone may not like to hear it but I would put it like this: these peoples have a common origin, a common root. There is a huge Russian trunk and there is another trunk - Belarusians and Ukrainians. We all stem from a single root," Lukashenko stressed.