Tensions flare between Kremlin, Belarus strongman

14th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Kremlin on Saturday accused the strongman president of Belarus of dishonourable and inconsistent behaviour, in one of the most venomous clashes yet between Russia and its onetime obedient ally.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, for years a loyal servant of Moscow, accused his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev of distorting remarks he made about the recognition of Georgian breakaway regions.

The Kremlin reacted furiously with a scathing personal attack on Lukashenko and threatened 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 pledge at the meeting of the regional security group the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) but then failed to fulfil 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.

The Belarussian leader said that he had made no "solemn" promise to Medvedev.

"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."

A source within the Kremlin administration took the attack a step further: "The dishonour and inconsistency of Alexander Lukashenko on this question (of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), and on many others, became the norm long ago."

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 prices and debts, that led to a cut in Russia's Europe-bound supplies flowing via Belarus and renewed EU fears about energy security in the former Soviet Union.

Russian television has also aired two documentaries hugely critical of Lukashenko and linking him to the disappearance of opponents.

Coincidentally, NTV television is to air the third part of the documentary -- uncomprimisingly entitled "Godfather Batka III" -- on Sunday evening. NTV is owned by Gazprom-Media Holding, the gas giant's media subsidiary.

Lukashenko has ruled the state of 10 million that lies between three EU states and Russia since 1994. He faces presidential elections next year and analysts have speclated Moscow may be tempted to back a rival candidate.

Minsk's failure to recognise the rebel Georgian regions has become an embarrassment for Moscow, which has seen its move to declare their independence after the 2008 war with Georgia followed by only a handful of far-flung states.

© 2010 AFP

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