EU to grant Belarus 10 million euros in aid - commissioner

EU to grant Belarus 10 million euros in aid - commissioner
EU to grant Belarus 10 million euros in aid - commissioner - Sputnik International
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The European Union is to give Belarus 10 million euros ($13.9 mln) in food safety aid, the European Commission reported on Friday ahead of a visit to Minsk by the EC commissioner for external affairs.

BRUSSELS, June 19 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union is to give Belarus 10 million euros ($13.9 mln) in food safety aid, the European Commission reported on Friday ahead of a visit to Minsk by the EC commissioner for external affairs.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner will announce the aid package during her visit on June 22 to the ex-Soviet republic for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko, Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov and opposition representatives.

"The EU stands ready to support Belarus in many different areas and therefore I am pleased that we could allocate an assistance package of 10 million euros to the improvement of Belarusian food safety and quality," Ferrero-Waldner was quoted as saying.

A European Commission statement described food safety in Belarus, "where some 23% of the national territory remains contaminated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster," as "a highly sensitive topic."

Talks between Ferrero-Waldner and the Belarusian authorities will center on the prospects for cooperation between the EU and Minsk. The Eastern Partnership initiative and its potential for Belarus will also be on the agenda.

Lukashenko, who has run Belarus since 1994 and was once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, has moved to rebuild ties with the West, freeing several political prisoners last year in line with EU demands.

The European Union has suspended a travel ban on the Belarusian leader, and the country has been invited to join the EU's Eastern Partnership program, seen by many as designed to curb Russia's influence on the six former Soviet republics - Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova and Belarus - included in the scheme.

Earlier in June, the Belarusian president described cooperation with the EU as "part of a strategic plan."

"What we have with our Western neighbor is not some sort of game. It's the implementation of our long-standing strategic course," Lukashenko said.

Belarus's president demonstratively rejected a $500 million loan in Russian rubles in May, asking for U.S. dollars instead. He also told his Cabinet to stop bowing down to Russia and seek partners in other countries after the dispute.

Last year, Lukashenko secured a $2 billion loan from Russia to help the economy through the financial crisis, and a deal to receive Russian natural gas at a subsidized rate. Belarus received the first $1 billion in November 2008. In March 2009, the country received another $500 million.

However, relations between Moscow and Minsk have been strained in recent years, largely due to Russia raising its gas price.

In the latest clash earlier this month, Moscow imposed a ban on Belarusian dairy products over Minsk's alleged failure to comply with new regulations. However the ban was scrapped on Wednesday, with Belarusian supplies to Russia restored on Thursday.

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