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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus to Look West if Union Fails

MINSK, Belarus -- The authoritarian president of Belarus announced Friday that he planned to improve his nation's frosty relations with the West if Russia continues to drag out implementation of a merger between the two neighbors.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has long been pushing for union with Russia.

The two countries have signed a deal that brings them closer together, but plans for a complete merger have stalled, partly because Belarus' moribund economy could further burden Russia.

Lukashenko appears to be growing increasingly frustrated with the delay. On Friday, he told Moscow that if it continues to ignore his advances, he would turn to the West.

"I have ordered the Foreign Ministry to establish the kindest, closest relations with ... Western nations," Lukashenko told the parliamentary assembly of the Russia-Belarus union.

"We had made a big mistake. ... We had been leaning toward the East for too long," he told the meeting.

Western democracies are not likely to welcome Lukashenko's overture. He has a history of troubled relations with the West, and his suppression of human rights has subjected him to criticism by Western governments and organizations.

Lukashenko also criticized Moscow for failing to heed his call for closer ties with international pariahs such as Iran and Iraq.