Belarus leader tells Cabinet to stop 'bowing' to Russia

MOSCOW, May 29 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus's president told his Cabinet ministers on Friday to stop bowing down to Russia and seek partners in other countries after a dispute over a $500 million loan.

"If things go wrong with Russia, do not bow down [to it], do not whine and weep, seek fortune in a different part of the globe," Alexander Lukashenko told a Cabinet session in the capital, Minsk.

The statement came after talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin on Thursday, when the two countries failed to agree on the last $500 million tranche of a stabilization loan to Minsk.

Kudrin said on Thursday that Belarus had refused to accept the money in Russian rubles, and had asked for U.S. dollars. He also criticized Minsk's economic policies, saying that the ex-Soviet republic was spending too much of its gold and foreign currency reserves to keep the exchange rate stable.

Lukashenko accused Kudrin of taking sides with Belarus's opposition, whom he said have been "funded by the West," and pointed to Russia's own economic failures.

He also claimed said Kudrin's critical remarks had been agreed on with Putin.

Last year, Lukashenko secured a $2 billion loan from Russia to help the economy against the backdrop of the global financial crisis and a deal to receive Russian natural gas at a subsidized price. Belarus received the first $1 billion in November 2008. In March 2009, the country received another $500 million.

However, relations between Moscow and Minsk have repeatedly been strained in recent years, largely due to Russia raising its gas prices.

Lukashenko, who has run Belarus since 1994 and was once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, has moved to rebuild ties with the West, freeing several political prisoners last year in line with EU demands.

The European Union has suspended a travel ban on the Belarusian leader, and the country has been invited to join the EU's Eastern Partnership program, seen by many as designed to curb Russia's influence on the six former Soviet republics - Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova and Belarus - included in the scheme.



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