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    BELARUSSIAN PRESIDENT OUT TO DRIVE IN WEDGE BETWEEN MINSK & MOSCOW, WARNS RUSSIA'S FOREIGN MINISTRY

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    MOSCOW, FEBRUARY 19 (RIA NOVOSTI) - What President Alexander Lukashenko is saying a propos suspended Russian gas exports to Belarus is downright provocative. "As his pronouncements show, he is turning a blind eye to the Belarussian nation's interests to take up policies detrimental to its relations with Russia," a spokesman of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says in a statement.

    "The Belarussian top has been deliberately working in the preceding months to provoke the current crisis. Whatever Gazprom Co. would do to come at mutually acceptable and economically sound settlement of the available disputes, Minsk never ceased to impose on it such options that would, de facto, cause major Russian financial losses. Belarussian leaders were artificially imposing a political purport on the problem, and thus thwarting efforts for mutually acceptable understandings," the statement emphasizes.

    "President Alexander Lukashenko's provocative pronouncements of February 19 show that he ignores the Belarussian nation's interests to exacerbate relations with Russia.

    "It is natural, in the situation, to ask why Mr. Lukashenko needs it. The answer is, to all appearances, in his domestic policies.

    "The President of Belarus is responsible for systemic errors in his country's domestic and foreign policies, which impede its social and economic progress, and have brought Belarus into isolation on the international scene.

    "President Lukashenko has provoked a crisis round gas imports from Russia, and is thus trying to draw aside criticisms from himself, and shift on Russia responsibility for his own blunders.

    "Belarussians are a wise lot. They will not be taken in. Russia will always support them as the two nations share a past, a present and a future," points out the document.

    Gazprom was forced, yesterday, into suspending gas exports to Belarus, and to third countries via Belarus as Beltransgaz Co. was making unauthorized use of Russian gas. After that, President Lukashenko said he agreed to accept Moscow terms for Russian gas imports - and warned, at the same time, that "Belarus will reappraise its relations with Russia." He repeated his previous demand for Belarus importing Russian gas on Russian domestic prices and, to make things worse, alleged that Russia was enjoying privileges in his country.

    "With today's move, Russia determined to destroy all recent understandings," said President Lukashenko.

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