Minsk - The US should become an active member of a European Union programme aimed in part at pressuring authoritarian Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko to be more democratic, two Belarusian opposition leaders said Friday.
Washington should "join efforts (with the EU) in the wisdom and effectiveness" of the EU's Eastern Partnership programme, wrote Belarusian opposition leaders Stanislav Shuskevich and Ivonka Survilla, in an open letter to US President Barack Obama.
The Eastern Partnership programme, begun by Brussels in May 2009, aims at a continent-wide common policy towards the EU's neighbours in the former Soviet Union.
EU diplomats have offered the former collective farm boss Lukashenko the possibility of increased trade with Europe, in exchange for Belarusian moves towards more democratic government.
Lukashenko in recent months reduced moderately state repression of independent media and opposition groups, while the EU lifted bans on travel by senior Belarusian officials to Europe.
An increased dialogue between the Lukashenko regime and the EU is in both sides interests, and works against "economic blackmail by Moscow against Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine with the goal of bringing them back under the control of the Kremlin," Shushkevich and Survilla wrote in part.
Russia, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, has repeatedly slowed or cut off energy supplies to former Soviet republics critical of Moscow, while continuing to provide cheap oil and gas to former republics supporting Russian foreign policy.
Belarus until 2006 benefited from heavily-subsidised Russian energy shipments, until Lukashenko and Moscow in fell out over price hikes and a long-stalled plan to reunify the two countries.
Shushkevich, a top Soviet-era physicist, served as Belarus' first head of state until forced from power by Lukashenko in a 1994 constitutional coup.
Survilla, an ethnic Belarusian based in Canada, is the current president of the Belarusian National Republic (BNR), a government-in- exile opposing Lukashenko's rule. (dpa)