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EU warns Minsk recognition of Abkhazia could affect ties

BRUSSELS, February 24 (RIA Novosti) - Improving relations between the European Union and Belarus will be suspended if Minsk recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent, an EU commissioner said on Tuesday. The Belarusian parliament will consider recognizing the two former Georgian republics on April 2. Russia recognized the two states as independent on August 26, 2008. "As for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, our position remains unchanged - we will not recognize it. And if Belarus recognizes it, that will kick our relations back to the previous position. So far this has not taken place yet, but if it does, it will be a retreat, and freeze our rapprochement," Benita-Ferrero Waldner, the EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, told reporters from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Asked if the EU would cancel its invitation to Belarus to join its Eastern Partnership program, Waldner said it would be up to the European Council to decide how relations between Brussels and Minsk develop. The program, which does not include potential membership in the EU but provides for political and economic relations with the organization, will be kicked off in Prague on May 7. Under the program, Belarus and another five former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, will be granted 350 million euros ($448 million) in extra financial assistance by 2013. The EU announced on Monday the inclusion of Belarus in its Eastern Partnership program. The announcement was made after a meeting of foreign ministers from the 27-nation alliance in Brussels, and comes less than a week after EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's visit to the former Soviet republic. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said with confidence his country's bilateral relations with the EU would be improved after Solana's visit. "His [Javier Solana's] visit to Minsk [last Thursday] boosted the movement towards each other for Belarus and the EU and will improve relations. I have no doubt about that," Lukashenko said.

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