Belarus lashes out at Russia in dispute over loan


Associated Press

The president of Belarus lashed out at Russia's finance minister Friday, a day after officials failed to agree on terms for a $500 million loan to the smaller country.

President Alexander Lukashenko, known for his fiery temper and colorful language, reacted sharply to comments from Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin.

On Thursday, the Russian called Belarus' planned economy and stiff control of its currency a "meaningless policy," and said Belarus was taking a "parasitic" attitude toward Russia.

Lukashenko rejected the comments Friday.

"It's not working with Russia," he told Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and other Cabinet ministers. "There's no need to bow down, to whine and cry. We have to find our own happiness in another part of the planet."

"Enough, Sergei, with this taking our ministers down this well-trodden path!" the president said. "We have to find other places, where they don't know us, where they're waiting for us to trade _ dozens of tractors and one combine for a teaspoon of sugar!" Lukashenko said.

The exchange reflects growing tension between the two neighbors and allies. Belarus' Soviet-style economy has been propped up in part by cheap Russian gas and oil and Lukashenko has called for his country to reunite with Russia.

But in recent years, the two countries have clashed over the fees Russia pays to Belarus for the transport of Russian oil to Europe. The Kremlin is also impatient with Lukashenko's resistance to Russian attempts to take control of key industrial assets.

Russia has also been expecting Belarus to quickly follow its example in recognizing Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations, which Russia did following its war with Georgia last summer.

And adding to Moscow's dismay, Lukashenko has sought recently to improve ties with the United States and the European Union.

With the global financial crisis pinching Belarus' economy, the country has sought loans from international lenders, as well as Russia. Last year, Belarus secured a $2 billion loan from Russia as well as a deal for Russian gas at a lower price than that paid by other former Soviet republics.

Belarus had been pushing for the last $500 million installment of that loan, but Russia made clear Thursday that it would not be providing that.

Kudrin, who was accompanying Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on a trip to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, also warned that the Belarusian government might go bankrupt this year or next.

Lukashenko accused Kudrin of sowing panic in Belarus.



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