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Belarus Leader Raps Russia Over Free Bases

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

MINSK (Reuters) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka today berated ally Russia for not paying for its military bases deployed in his country and warned that he could snub the summit of a Moscow-dominated security pact next month.

Lukashenka, who has sought to improve ties with the West, bitterly hit out at Russia's gas-for-base deal with Ukraine.

"I want to congratulate my Ukrainian colleagues on this victory -- they have saved a few billion dollars by signing this deal," Lukashenka told reporters.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, bargaining with Moscow for cheaper gas, agreed last week to extend the lease of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea by 25 years beyond 2017, a move the opposition sees as Ukraine selling its sovereignty.

"If someone has forgotten, Russia has two military bases on Belarusian land," Lukashenka said. "And Russia pays us zero rubles, zero kopecks, and zero dollars for these bases."

"Besides Belarus, Russia has no one on its western flank," he added.

He said one of the bases was part of Russia's national ballistic missile early warning system, while the other provided communications with Russian submarines in the Atlantic.

Russian officials say Moscow does not pay Minsk for the bases because Belarus gets Russian oil and gas at low prices, while Belarus says the lack of payment is due to a close military and political partnership between the two.

Those ties have soured amid trade wars, Belarus's anger over what it sees as high prices for Russian energy, and Moscow's irritation with Minsk's refusal to recognize Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Adding further to tensions, Lukashenka has criticized Moscow's prompt support of Kyrgyzstan's opposition, which came to power after a bloody revolt this month. Ousted Kyrgyz leader Kurmanbek Bakiev was sheltered in Belarus.

Lukashenka threatened he would not attend an informal summit of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) set for May 8 in Moscow, unless the issue of Kyrgyzstan's "coup d'etat" was included in the agenda of the meeting.

Both Belarus and Kyrgyzstan make part of the post-Soviet security pact, along with Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

"What sort of organization is this one, if there is bloodshed in one of our member states and an anticonstitutional coup d'etat takes place, and this body keeps silent?" Lukashenka said.

"At this stage, there is no agenda [for the summit.] If nothing is changed, I have nothing to do there," he said.

CSTO countries control a key land route from Europe to Afghanistan, and the group is often billed as a regional counterweight to NATO.

In June last year Lukashenka snubbed an ODKB summit in Moscow over a milk export row with Russia.