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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Leaps To Reassure Yeltsin

Apparently worried that an interview he gave to a German journalist was going to sour his relationship with President Boris Yeltsin, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko hurried Tuesday to deny his statements that he has "no intention of becoming Yeltsin's errand boy."

In the interview earlier this month with Stefan Stoll, a correspondent for the German weekly Die Woche, Lukashenko was sharply critical of the Russian leadership's approach to unification with Belarus. He said a Russia-Belarus union should not be a vehicle for Yeltsin to remain in power when his term expires next year.

The interview was reprinted Tuesday in the Moscow News, a liberal weekly newspaper consistently critical of Lukashenko.

"Yeltsin's entourage miscalculates if they think that Lukashenko would act as a Trojan Horse, on whose shoulders some politicians could extend their political longevity," Lukashenko was quoted as saying.

"I did propose to Boris Yeltsin that he become president of the union, while I agree to assume the vice presidential post. But I have no intention of becoming Yeltsin's errand boy. Everything has to be spelled out in the functions and powers of the president, vice president and parliament."

Russian television stations were then quick to report the Belarussian president's statements. NTV television interpreted Lukashenko's statements as his backing away from the unification plans.

Lukashenko was quick to jump into the fray and try to smooth things over with Yeltsin. In comments carried on Russian television, he said his proposals offering the union's presidency to Yeltsin "remain in force."

"Most likely, they [the Russian media] are trying to poke Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin], but along with that, they want to get him in a quarrel with Lukashenko," Belarus' president said.

Lukashenko said he sent a message to Yeltsin denying his statements. Yeltsin did not comment publicly on the fuss.

In the interview, Lukashenko said Russian politicians were to blame for the delay in unification.

"So far, Russia is not ready for it: Russians are waiting for presidential elections. ... Equality should be the main principle of our partnership. If certain Russian leaders are not ready for an equal union, we will not be creating such a union."

Lukashenko denied publicly that he had given the interview to Moscow News or any other "yellow" Russian newspaper.

"I have not given an interview to any newspaper, that is excluded," Russian television showed Lukashenko saying during a meeting with the governor of Russia's Kaliningrad region.

Lukashenko also said he did not believe an independent press existed. The press, he said, is always used by politicians for their own purposes.

Lukashenko's press service confirmed Tuesday that the interview had been granted to Die Woche on July 9.

Moscow News declared that the interview was done by the Die Woche correspondent specially for the Russian weekly. Stoll said Moscow News reprinted his story, translating it from the German. The translation was accurate, Stoll said. The interview also was published in an independent Belarussian newspaper.

It is typical of Lukashenko to accommodate his statements to his audience.

Stoll said Lukashenko was probably unprepared for the fact that statements he intended for a Western audience would be played back in Russia.

"He has the old Soviet thinking that the Iron Curtain still exists and that everything said in the West can not be heard back in the former Soviet Union," the German journalist said.