WARSAW, May 5 (RIA Novosti) - The presidents of Belarus and Moldova will not attend a EU summit designed to boost ties with ex-Soviet republics due in Prague on Thursday, Czech media reported on Tuesday.
Alexander Lukashenko, who has long been criticized for human rights abuses in Belarus, and Vladimir Voronin, whose country saw violent protests against parliamentary vote results last month, will send deputy prime ministers to take part in the Eastern Partnership summit, an unidentified Czech Foreign Ministry official was reported as saying.
Europe has been relaxing the isolation of Lukashenko, who visited Italy late last month, his first trip to Western Europe in 14 years. Concerns over progress towards respect of human rights were overcome in inviting the country to the summit in the Czech Republic, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency.
The Eastern Partnership program does not offer EU membership to Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova and Belarus, but is aimed at ensuring their political and economic rapprochement with the bloc, including by improving human rights, easing visa regulations and ensuring energy security.
Russia's foreign minister has in the past expressed concerns about the program.
"We heard an announcement from Brussels that this is not an attempt to create a new sphere of influence and that it is not a process which is directed against Russia... but I won't deny that some comments on the initiative made by the EU have concerned us," Sergei Lavrov said.