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Russia, Belarus talks end in ‘scandal’

Moscow — Talks between the leaders of one-time unswerving allies Belarus and Russia were marked by a string of disagreements, the Russian press said Friday, with one paper saying they ended in "scandal".

The meeting Thursday between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was overshadowed by a dispute over the issuing of the next 500 million dollar (358 million euro) tranche of a Russian loan to Minsk.

Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin stated that Belarus had refused to take the money in Russian rubles and then even publicly cast doubt on the country’s ability to service its debt.

"500 million dollars in rubles is not money. Belarus does not need such a credit," was the sarcastic headline in the Russian daily Kommersant.

"Scandal broke out at Thursday’s joint meeting of the Belarusian and Russian cabinets," it added.

The pro-government daily Izvestia added caustically: "Brotherly love did not find a ruble equivalent."

Kudrin also announced that Belarus had requested a nine-billion-dollar loan from Russia to build a nuclear power station but was also at pains to emphasise that there was no guarantee that Minsk would receive the money.

The minister bluntly called for "adequate measures" from Belarus to sort out its finances and was later publicly reprimanded by Putin who said that "extreme assessments are inappropriate".

"There are projects but no money. Russian-Belarussian relations have come up against the financial question," said the liberal daily Gazeta.

Ties between Russia and Belarus — once seen as Moscow’s most faithful regional ally — have experienced a sudden chill over the last months as Minsk seeks closer ties to the European Union.

Lukashenko, whose government was dubbed Europe’s last dictatorship by the United States but is now seeking better ties with the West, had last week launched a fulminating attack on Moscow for reneging on pacts.

"It seems that Russia is unwilling to part with a large sum of money (for Belarus) without getting something in return. And this feeling is strengthening," said the state daily Rossiskaya Gazeta.

Russia has been particularly riled by Belarus’ moves to join the EU Eastern Partnership plan to foster closer ties between the EU and six ex-Soviet states, an initiative it regards with the greatest suspicion.

AFP / Expatica