Belarus to stay away from NATO summit

MINSK (Reuters) – The former Soviet republic of Belarus, subject to Western sanctions over its human rights record, said on Wednesday it was staying away from a NATO summit in Bucharest because of restrictions on who could attend.

Belarus has long been a fierce critic of Washington and President Alexander Lukashenko has been barred entry to the United States and European Union.

Belarussian officials had been invited to attend a meeting on Thursday in Bucharest of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which oversees cooperation with states that are not NATO members.

“Belarus was informed that NATO had decided to place restrictions on the level of Belarussian participants at the meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Belarus has therefore been obliged for reasons of principle to cancel its participation in the Bucharest summit.”

Officials did not say which officials had been denied permission to attend the meeting.

But a source close to the ministry said: “Belarus had presumed it would be taking part at the ministerial level. But we were told there were restrictions.”

Lukashenko has sought to improve relations with the West, particularly the EU. But he continues to denounce NATO and the United States, whose ambassador left Belarus last month at the urging of authorities angry at what they saw as new sanctions.

The Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday said it had asked the United States for a new staffing cut of more than 50 percent at its Minsk embassy. Washington has called Belarus the “last dictatorship in Europe”.

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