Russia "perplexed" by Belarus silence on Georgia

MINSK, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Russia's ambassador to Belarus said on Tuesday that Moscow could not understand why its western neighbour, nominally a close ally, had failed to offer the Kremlin open support in its conflict with Georgia. Belarus, whose President Alexander Lukashenko is accused by the West of crushing fundamental rights, has portrayed itself as a close Russian ally since the 1990s.

The two neighbours are committed to forming a merged post-Soviet "union state", though this has been put on the backburner, especially since 2007 when they quarrelled over energy prices.

"We are somewhat perplexed by the modest silence of the Belarussian side. You need to express yourself more clearly on such issues, especially as we have a union state," ambassador Alexander Surikov told a briefing.

Belarus's Foreign Ministry has called on both sides to lay down their arms and start negotiating for peace.

Surikov complained that Belarus had not even offered to send aid for people injured or made homeless in South Ossetia.

"We have always supported and defended Belarus," he said.

Russia has consistently defended Belarus against accusations that it violates freedom of speech and assembly, and Vladimir Putin was one of a handful of leaders to congratulate Lukashenko on his 2006 re-election, denounced as rigged in the West.

Police on Monday detained several members of Belarus's liberal and nationalist opposition who were protesting outside the Russian embassy in support of Georgia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt on Tuesday to military operations in Georgia after five days of conflict during which Russian troops pushed the Georgian army out of South Ossetia, the breakaway region Tbilisi tried to retake. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Sabina Zawadzki)



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