Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed to journalists on Wednesday that he would visit Austria and Latvia, venturing into Europe for the first time since having his travel ban lifted in 2016.
“Austria, Latvia, and other countries represent windows in the fence that was once built around our country,” Lukashenko is quoted by the Belarusian state-owned news agency BelTA. “Moreover, sanctions were enforced. This is why we are forced to make windows [...] at a new level.”
The Latvian government said in August it would purchase electricity directly from Belarus once Lithuania imposed a ban on electric energy imports from the neighbouring country in response to a nuclear power plant that Belarus is building close to the border.
Vilnius sees Riga's move as contradicting its calls for solidarity against the nuclear project it deems unsafe. However, Latvia says the energy imports are needed to stabilise the Baltic power grids before the three states syncronise their networks with the rest of Europe by 2025.
Latvia is also competing for Belarusian freight which now transits Lithuania.
A third of all cargo passing through Lithuania’s Klaipėda port now comes from Belarus, and various companies, including the state-owned Lithuanian Railways, reap profits from Belarus’ exports.
The freight from Belarus is also due to increase following China’s growing investments across the border from Lithuania.
Read more: Lithuanian hardline on Belarus cracks with China’s investment push
Earlier in October, Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Jaroslav Narkevič visited the Great Stone industrial park, a Chinese-Belarusian project under construction near Minsk while on an official visit to Belarus.
Narkevič said at the time Lithuania was interested in preventing Belarusian shipments from being diverted to Latvian ports.