Russian president assails Belarusian leader



Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday sharply criticized his Belarusian counterpart, signaling mounting tensions in relations between the two ex-Soviet neighbors.

Medvedev in a video blog entry posted on the Kremlin Web site accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of trying to cast Russia as his nation's main enemy while running for re-election.

Russia has a union agreement with Belarus and provided generous subsidies to help keep Belarus' Soviet-style economy afloat, but their ties have turned sour recently amid economic and political disputes.

Medvedev said that Lukashenko has "gone beyond not only diplomatic rules, but elementary rules of behavior" in his recent public statements. He accused the Belarusian leader of building his campaign for re-election in December's vote on "hysterical anti-Russian rhetoric."

There was no immediate comment from Lukashenko's office late Sunday.

Medvedev said that Lukashenko had reneged on his promise to follow Russia's example in recognizing the independence of Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia has recognized the two regions as independent states following a 2008 war with Georgia, but only Venezuela, Nicaragua and the small South Pacific island nation of Nauru have followed suit so far.

Medvedev said that Lukashenko had promised during a recent meeting of ex-Soviet leaders to recognize the two provinces independence, but later turned the issue into a "subject for political bargaining."

"No, Russia isn't trading in principles, and such conduct is dishonourable," Medvedev said in his blog. "Partners don't behave like that. And we will take that into account while maintaining our relations with the incumbent Belarusian president."

Russia in June partially cut natural gas supplies to Belarus for three days over its debt for previous deliveries, finally forcing its neighbor to pay. Moscow also has rejected Lukashenko's push for lower duties for Russian oil supplies to Belarus under a customs union between the neighbors.

Russia's Kremlin-controlled television stations recently have run several documentaries containing fierce criticism of Lukashenko and exposing his alleged abuses -- the propaganda barrage that is likely to intensify in the coming months.

Russia hasn't yet cast its support behind any of the Belarusian opposition leaders in the election campaign, but some observers expect the Kremlin to make its preferences clear later.


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