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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Skips Moscow Summit

RIA-NovostiMedvedev and other leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization looking at samples of military equipment during their summit on Sunday.��
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko skipped a key security summit Sunday, raising the stakes in an escalating trade conflict with Moscow.

Lukashenko's snub prompted a rebuke from President Dmitry Medvedev, who complained that the Belarussian leader had not even bothered to call personally to explain his absence.

"I would like to say that leaders should act as partners in such a situation," Medvedev told reporters.

"Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko did not call me on the telephone and tell me that he had made the decision not to come, but staff from his administration called us," he said.

He also said Belarus' actions "excessively politicized" a technical trade issue.

Belarus' Foreign Ministry said Lukashenko decided not to attend because Russia was "openly discriminating" of a ban last week on most Belarussian dairy goods. "Such actions objectively undermine the economic security" of Belarus and thus its overall security, the ministry said in a statement on its web site.

Four leaders of the six-nation Organization of the Collective Security Treaty, or CSTO, agreed at the one-day summit in Moscow to create a collective rapid response force tasked with protecting the territorial integrity, sovereignty and security of the treaty's member countries. The joint military task force was a Russian initiative that Moscow strongly pushed after the military conflict in Georgia last summer.

The two states that did not sign the agreement were Belarus and Uzbekistan. It was not clear Sunday what prevented Tashkent from approving the document.

Belarus also was to take over the formal leadership of the CSTO from Armenia at the summit Sunday. Medvedev said Russia would assume the leadership until Belarus resumed its work in the group.

After the summit, Belarus' Foreign Ministry said all decisions made at the talks were illegitimate. Ministry spokesman Andrei Belov said Russian officials could not push through the summit agenda without Lukashenko because CSTO rules require the consensus of all member states on issues related to security.

CSTO consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Lukashenko has linked the ban on Belarussian dairy products to his reluctance to recognize the independence of Georgia's Moscow-backed regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian authorities say the dairy products simply do not meet Russian quality and sanitary standards.

The Federal Consumer Protection Service banned about 1,200 dairy products on June 9, leaving just 58 goods available for sale. But the economic frictions between the two countries date back to 2007, when Russia increased prices for natural gas and demanded that Minsk cede control of its gas transportation system leading to Europe.

Gas also has a role in the latest dispute. Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin on Thursday inaugurated the second line of the Baltic Pipeline System, which will bypass Belarus in delivering Russian gas to Europe, depriving Minsk of up to $700,000 in annual revenues, or close to 5 percent of the country's annual budget.

In response, Lukashenko ordered his government to consider introducing border and customs controls on the Russian border. Belarussian officials said Sunday that they are prepared to do this swiftly, Interfax reported.

Sergei Markov, a State Duma deputy with United Russia, said Sunday that Lukashenko was "blackmailing the Kremlin by freezing his military and political cooperation in order to get economic perks."

Lukashenko, who is commonly referred to as the last dictator in Europe, had been making moves recently to break Belarus' isolation with the West and thus win some leverage in his dealings with Russia. He has released political dissents and traveled to the Vatican to meet the pope. His efforts apparently have been rewarded. After Russia froze a $500 million loan to Belarus, the International Monetary Fund agreed to issue a $1 billion loan to help the country stabilize its economy amid the crisis.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst with the National Strategy Institute, predicted that Moscow and Minsk would find a compromise under which Lukashenko would return to his seat at the CSTO, Belarussian milk would come back to Russian tables and Russia would ease its pressure to take control of strategic Belarussian industries.

"But this compromise will only last for a short time, because the business appetite of Russia's ruling elite is such that it can't remain on friendly terms with neighbors," he said.

Some progress toward a possible compromise has emerged in recent days. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a government meeting on Thursday that Belarussian curds and cheese would once again be allowed into Russian stores, but Belarus would have to reduce its export of powdered milk.

Putin said he hoped that there would be no "excessive" measures in the customs and sanitary regulations of the products.

Russia's top health official, Gennady Onishchenko, said Sunday that he had received a new list of Belarussian dairy products cleared for import into Russia.

Ira Iosebashvili contributed to this report.