Belarus, Russia should build relations honestly - opposition leader

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MOSCOW, October 6 (RIA Novosti) - A Belarusian opposition leader, who will challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in next year's election, said he was in favor of good and solid relations with Russia.

"We should build our relations honestly, on mutually beneficial conditions, and not base them on myths and manipulations, as Lukashenko does," Alexander Milinkevich told Thursday's edition of the respected Izvestia newspaper.

"It is a personal project of Lukashenko, who is still hoping to get a place in the Kremlin," he said in a reference to a plan to eventually unite Russia and Belarus into a single state, which has been discussed for many years even though few practical steps have been made.

He dismissed what he said was Lukashenko's tactics of "cheap gas in exchange for kisses" as fruitless because "when Russia joins the WTO and stops selling energy resources to Belarus at discount prices, the kisses and friendship will vanish."

Russia has been supplying Belarus with natural gas at preferential prices.

Milinkevich also said Russia was a key strategic partner and close ally of Belarus.

"It is important that the Russian authorities realize that we are sincerely willing to respect Russia's interests," Milinkevich said. "But we are not going to sacrifice our interests, either."

On October 2, opposition groups in Belarus named Milinkevich, a former science professor, as a single candidate to challenge Lukashenko in next year's presidential election.

Despite criticism from the West, Lukashenko remains popular in his country of 10 million.

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