Belarussian leader warns Kremlin after gas reduction

(MINSK) - The maverick leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, warned Monday that it was not in Russia's interests to upset his country after Russian gas giant Gazprom reduced Belarussian gas supplies.

Lukashenko said issues of energy and security were closely linked when it came to cooperation between the two ex-Soviet neighbors. Belarus has long exploited Moscow's desire to have a rare ally on its western borders in the hope of wringing economic concessions.

"Here, on the western frontiers, a Russian person has reliable support and friends no matter what circumstances we are facing," Lukashenko told Nikolai Patrushev, the chief of Russia's Security Council, in televised remarks.

"No matter how relations in the economy and other spheres are progressing, the security of our countries and of our union state are issues that have long been agreed upon and no one should joke here.

"Of course, everything today is linked here," he said. "Issues of security of Belarus and Russia should not suffer due to unsolved problems in the economy and other spheres."

Russia and Belarus have said building close economic ties remains a priority in bilateral ties and the two have also been working towards a single customs bloc.

Ties however have been soured by frequent energy and trade disputes and Lukashenko stayed away from a key meeting last month, forcing Russia and Kazakhstan to launch the customs union without Belarus.

Earlier Monday, Russia reduced natural gas supplies to Belarus by 15 percent after Minsk failed to settle a debt of nearly 200 million dollars.

Gazprom said talks were continuing but that the gas cuts would be increased to 85 percent in the coming days if a solution to the conflict is not found.


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