EU moves to curb Russian influence over neighbouring Belarus

The European Union has moved to curb Russia's influence over its border states after officials called for better relations with Belarus, a nation long seen as one of Moscow's most enthusiastic supporters.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy head, noted that Belarus, once described by Washington as Europe's last dictatorship, had taken the positive step of releasing a number of political prisoners.

"We would like very much to find something on our side to reward that sort of behaviour," Mr Solana said, adding that he had a long telephone conversation with Belarus's foreign minister on Friday.

The EU's external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said Europe should restart high-level meetings with the Belarussian government, which has also held out, much to Russia's annoyance, from recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The statements from the EU, which come as the West tries to limit Moscow's power over its backyard in the wake of the Georgian crisis, could become the first shots in an East-West war of influence over Belarus as it gears up for parliamentary elections at the end of September.

[Source: Focus Information Agency, Sofia, 08Sep08]

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