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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Sets Out Rare Pitch to Western Investors

MINSK -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, bruised by an energy dispute with main ally Russia, said Thursday that the moment was "favorable" for an improvement of ties with the West.

The veteran leader, whose country was once described by Washington as Europe's "last dictatorship," called for "an open and honest dialogue" to improve relations and said the first step would be for the European Union to lift a visa ban.

This was imposed on him and other Belarussian officials for their crackdowns on political opponents and the independent media.

"The West should first of all end the medieval ban on entry for Belarussian politicians to Europe. We cannot shout over the fence," Lukashenko said, the state news agency reported.

"Europe should understand us better. The moment is favorable."

Lukashenko built his 12-year rule on close ties with Moscow and Russian handouts to prop up his unreformed, Soviet-style economy. But that relationship is in danger after this month's dispute with the Kremlin over energy.

Lukashenko, unhappy that Russia was cutting cheap energy supplies to Belarus, slapped a transit duty on Russian oil flowing to Europe across his territory.

In the comments published by the state news agency, he made a pitch to attract Western investors, saying they could help reduce Russian influence on energy supplies.

"If Western energy companies had shares in the Belarussian energy transit system, Russia would not be so cruel to us. Russia's eyes light up when we talk about the upcoming privatization of Belarussian state property," he said. "We should use our geographical position in a much better way. Soon we will [start] work on specific programs."