On a political and business tour of Siberian regions, Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka demanded higher rewards than heretofore for his services as an ally of Russia. Addressing the workforce of the Polyot defense plant in Omsk, Lukashenka claimed that Belarus spends US$1 billion annually on its air defense system solely in order to protect Russia’s air space against NATO, and that Russia owes Belarus a further US$800 million in unpaid commercial bills this year. Lukashenka demanded that Belarus’ arrears to Russia for gas–currently US$220 million, and expected to surge this winter–be deducted from the value of his total financial claims on Russia.
Not content with that, Lukashenka implied that he might ask Russia to treat him as the United States treats its “strategic ally Israel.” While “our strategic partnership is not for sale,” Lukashenka hinted broadly, it should warrant US$3 billion annually in Russian economic assistance to Belarus. His eyes riveted on the Middle East and its arms market, Lukashenka urged Moscow to resume its Soviet-era alliances with Syria and Iraq and develop its relationship with Iran (Russian agencies, October 22).