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Kremlin criticizes Belarus leader ahead of elections in the ex-Soviet republic

The Kremlin has stepped up its criticism of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shortly after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused the autocratic leader of creating ill-will between the two nations.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev

Medvedev and Lukashenko do not see eye-to-eye

Russia and Belarus are hardly on speaking terms following an angry tit-for-tat exchange of accusations. News of the high-level diplomatic row could not have surfaced at a worse time for Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, who is seeking re-election in December.

In a video blog, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev said that Lukashenko could no longer count on the political support of the Kremlin, which he has enjoyed since he came to power in 1994.

"Today I want to talk to you about our closest ally, Belarus." With these words President Medvedev started his latest video blog, which was also broadcast on Russian television. In the minutes that followed Medvedev sharply criticized his Belarusian counterpart in an unprecedented verbal attack.

Oleg Bebenin

Oleg Bebenin, the founder of an oppositional Belarus website, was found dead last month

"In his statements, President Lukashenko not only expressed disregard for diplomatic rules, but also elementary rules of behavior," Medvedev said.

He accused Lukashenko of building his campaign for re-election on criticizing Moscow and added that Russia had always generously subsidized Belarus by supplying cheap oil and gas to its neighbor.

"The election campaign has been completely based on anti-Russian slogans, on hysterical accusations that Russia does not want to help Belarus and its economy, on cursing the Russian leadership,'' Medvedev said.

Blackmail accusations

The remarks came after 55-year-old Lukashenko accused the Kremlin of blackmail and sponsoring a campaign aimed at undermining his position.

Russian Presiden Dmitry Medvedev

Medvedev slammed Lukashenko's 'hysterical' anti-Russian rhetoric

"The goal of the campaign is clear: to convince the Russian people from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok that Belarusians are enemies, that their president is a thief, a murderer, a traitor, and that Belarus is a parasite. This is rubbish," Lukashenko said.

In a series of programs broadcast on several Russian TV channels over the past few months, Lukashenko has been accused of being directly responsible for the kidnapping and murder of political opponents. In the past Moscow has never raised the thorny issue of the kidnappings that have made Lukashenko a persona non grata in many western countries.

Poisoned relationship

"The relationship is bad, to say the least. What else can you say when the Russian president says during a visit to China that he does not expect anything good to come from the Belarusian elections,'' Lukashenko said.

A spokeswoman for Medvedev on Monday also confirmed that what she described as a point of "no return" had been passed.

"Naturally political contacts will continue at all levels," Natalya Timakova said. "Russian authorities intend to communicate with all political forces in Belarus representing various segments of public opinion."

As tensions mount, one thing is certain, relations between Russia and Belarus will never be the same again.

Author: Geert Groot Koerkamp, Moscow (nrt)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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