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Kremlin, Belarus strongman trade barbs in new spat

The Kremlin and the strongman president of Belarus on Saturday locked horns in a new clash raising questions about the future of one of Russia’s most enduring post-Soviet alliances.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, for years one of Moscow’s most reliable allies, accused his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev of distorting remarks he made about the recognition of Georgian breakaway regions.

The Kremlin Saturday reacted furiously, accusing Lukashenko of inconsistency and even threatening to publish a full transcript of an official meeting to back up its case.

“It’s not for Alexander Grigoriyevich (Lukashenko) to talk about inconsistency,” Medvedev’s top foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko said in a statement on Russian news agencies.

“It is to him that this description perfectly applies,” he added.

The row has erupted over whether Lukashenko — known at home as ‘Batka’ or ‘Dad’ — promised to recognise the breakaway pro-Moscow Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent.

Medvedev has said he made such a vow at the meeting of the regional security group the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) but then failed to fulfill his word.

Lukashenko however contended that all he said was that while it was no problem for Minsk to recognise the two regions, Belarus would have to consider the impact of such a move on its international relations.

“We can bring clarity with a transcript of the CSTO meeting containing the remarks of Alexander Lukashenko on this topic,” said Prikhodko.

In a veiled threat, he added: “We can also publish other remarks of Alexander Lukashenko which would not be uninteresting for both Belarussian and international society.”

Relations between Minsk and Moscow have become increasingly prickly over the last months as Lukashenko, whose regime was once dubbed by Washington as Europe’s last dictatorship, seeks closer ties with the West.

The two sides earlier this year had a major row on gas supplies while Russian television has aired documentaries hugely critical of Lukashenko and linking him to the disappearance of opponents.

Lukashenko has ruled the state of 10 million that lies between three EU states and Russia since 1994 and faces presidential elections next year.