Belarus-Russia rift widens
Sunday, June 14, 2009, 12:06
Belarus today signalled a growing rift with ally Russia, saying
president Alexander Lukashenko would not attend a security summit in
Moscow in protest at a Russian ban on dairy imports from Belarus.
Ties between former Soviet republics Russia and Belarus have been
strained since 2007, with Minsk upset at steadily rising prices for
Russian gas and Moscow angered by Lukashenko’s growing overtures to the
Mr Lukashenko had been due to take part in a summit of the Collective
Security Treaty Organisation (Csto), which groups Russia, Belarus,
Armenia and four Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
But he pulled out after Moscow banned one of Belarus’s key exports,
dairy products. Russia said this was imposed on health grounds but
Moscow has often used trade bans to put political pressure on
"In the current situation, Belarus … is forced to cancel its
participation in the CSTO meeting in Moscow on June 14th," Belarus’s
Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It was not feasible to take decisions about security unless there was a
halt to actions which undermined the economic security of CSTO
partners, the statement said. "We believe it would be a mockery of
common sense against the background of ‘trade wars’ waged by some CSTO
members against others."
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov chided Minsk for linking what he
said were economic problems to issues of military and political
"Honestly, we cannot comprehend the motives behind the Belarussia
side’s decision not to take part in the CSTO events in Moscow today,"
Mr Lavrov told the Interfax news agency.
Russia froze a $500 million loan to Belarus at the end of May,
prompting an angry outburst by Mr Lukashenko. He said Moscow refused
the money because he turned down Kremlin demands to recognise the
breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent
On June 6th, Russia banned imports of dairy products from Belarus,
cutting off a major source of exports for the indebted and struggling
state, which still runs a largely Soviet-style command economy.
Mr Lukashenko hit back by cancelling participation in today’s Csto
summit. The Csto controls a key land route from Europe to Afghanistan
and is sometimes billed as a counterweight to Nato.
It had been due to decide today on the creation of a rapid reaction
force to fight common security challenges such as drug trafficking from
Afghanistan and international terrorism.
"Our country will sign a package of documents on the rapid reaction
force only once security within the CSTO has been restored in all its
entirety," Belarus’s Foreign Ministry said.
Slav neighbours Russia and Belarus have pledged to build a "union
state" and have declared a passport and customs union, but progress
towards political union has long been stalled and the latest moves have
reversed progress in this area.
Yesterday, Mr Lukashenko asked his ministers to look into the
re-introduction of controls on the border with Russia.
Mr Lukashenko has long been accused by the West of repressing dissent,
muzzling the media and rigging elections.
But as relations with Moscow soured, he has tried to improve relations
with the West by releasing dissidents from jail and promising to
consider other political reforms.
Russia, the world’s Number two oil exporter and a holder of the third
largest gold and forex reserves, has been trying to use the economic
crisis to tighten its grip on less wealthy neighbours, largely
dependent on trade with Russia.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress