CHISINAU (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Thursday he planned to use a trip to Belarus to warn its leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, of the security threat posed by Russia.
Bolton will be the most senior U.S. official in years to visit Belarus, a move that comes as Moscow and Minsk are moving to closer integrate their countries as part of a union state project that has fuelled fears of a quiet annexation by Moscow.
Russia views Belarus as a buffer between its western border and Europe as ties with the West have sunk to post-Cold War lows, but it denies there is anything untoward going on with its union state project and says Belarus is a close and valued ally.
Speaking to reporters in Moldova on Thursday, Bolton said “…we thought that in light of the things we’ve heard from Moscow that it’s important to go to Belarus and talk about their sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Bolton made the comments in Chisinau following talks there with Prime Minister Maia Sandu who came to power in June and has said she wants to free Moldova from an oligarchic system that has dogged the country since independence from Moscow in 1991.
“I can say on behalf of the U.S. government we wish you and the new government here all the best wishes for your anti-corruption campaign, which is extremely important for potential U.S investors…” Bolton said.
Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, is one of Europe’s poorest countries. The former Soviet republic of 3.5 million people has long been on the front lines of geopolitical rivalry between the European Union and Russia.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)