By Alyana Alfaro, Alyana Alfaro/ Democracy Now
International security officials have been told by the Kremlin that President Andrei Lukashenko of Belarus is effectively blackmailing Russian president Vladimir Putin, a Russian outlet is reporting.
Moscow has frozen negotiations with neighbouring Belarus because of a pact that will limit migration from the ex-Soviet nations, the outlet RBC reported. Lukashenko’s deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Gagarin, confirmed to the outlet that the government in Minsk wants the Kremlin to pay outstanding tariffs on non-tariff goods from Belarus before the negotiations start.
Lukashenko, who came to power in 1994 at the age of 27, says he’s afraid that Russia will stop using Belarus’s Black Sea ports or reflagged ships for transit to Europe. Such ships currently provide an important source of commerce to Belarus’s domestic industries.
The Russian Parliament passed the border pact with Belarus on 31 March, the same day the Minsk government ordered the foreign ministry to freeze the talks with Moscow on a separate free trade agreement.
The Kremlin has been reportedly angered by Belarus’s on-going support for Ukraine and over its presence in Crimea, where pro-Moscow separatists oppose the recently restored Ukrainian government, and to be close allies of the US.
RBC reports that Putin has threatened to cut Russia’s food imports from Belarus if it doesn’t restart the talks.
“Having invested so much in these relations,” Gagarin said, “Minsk must consider how to ensure its economic interests and not give the situation another blow.
“Relations between [Moscow and Minsk] can never be normal and other people’s interests are not a priority for the Belarusian leaders,” he added.