MINSK, Belarus – The president of Belarus on Thursday threatened to retaliate against Russia for what he called its “insolent” trade restrictions.
The statement by President Alexander Lukashenko reflected simmering tensions between the former Soviet neighbors. Russia and Belarus are allies with close political, economic and military ties, but they regularly engage in vociferous trade arguments.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for a quarter-century while relying on Russian loans and cheap energy to keep its Soviet-style economy afloat. He has described a recent Russian oil price hike as part of Moscow’s efforts to force Belarus to abandon its independence.
Speaking at a meeting with Cabinet officials, Lukashenko said Russia “has grown insolent and started twisting our arm” by banning agriculture products from Belarus. He suggested that Belarus could retaliate by shutting down for repairs transit pipelines that carry Russian crude oil to the West.
“If you need to make repairs to the pipelines that carry oil and oil products via Belarus, do it,” Lukashenko told officials. “Because the good things we do for the Russian Federation turn out badly for us.”
Russian officials have accused Belarus of serving as a conduit for counterfeit supplies of Western agricultural products that Moscow banned in retaliation for the U.S. and the EU sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
“They don’t like our carrots or lettuce or cucumbers,” Lukashenko said of Russia. “They close their market for us.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged that Russia and Belarus have economic disagreements but dismissed Lukashenko’s claim that Moscow was deliberately putting pressure on Belarus.
“Russia provides a huge amount of direct and indirect aid to Belarus,” he said.
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