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Lukashenka Criticizes Russia Ahead Of Putin Visit

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

MINSK (Reuters) -- Belarussian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has criticized Russia for failing to carry out decisions on integrating the two states, a week before Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to visit.

The two countries have talked for more than a decade about a "union state" bringing the countries closer together even though Lukashenka has sought a rapprochement with the West after years of isolation and accusations of human right abuses.

Despite talks of adopting the Russian rouble for trade, Minsk has been frustrated by what it sees as unequal access to Russian markets as both ex-Soviet countries grapple with the global economic downturn.

"Everything that we agreed, that we discussed at the supreme state council, the appropriate documents that we signed -- all of this has been blocked," the official BelTA news agency cited Lukashenka as saying.

"If we are going to be blocking each other on such issues and Russia starts denying us access to its markets, then who needs this so-called integration process? "The presidents take decisions, and the Russian government fails [to implement them]."

He said he would discuss these issues when Putin visits next week. The two are also expected to discuss the release of a $500 million Russian loan to Belarus and the idea of a currency swap, to allow Belarus to move to the rouble in its trade accounts.

Lukashenka has to perform a balancing act between Russia, the traditional ally which is kinder to Lukashenka's style of rule and supplies Belarus's energy, and the European Union, which can offer modernization and investment.

Lukashenka began moving away from Russia after a 2007 row over gas prices. Accused by the West of flouting human rights, Minsk has now taken steps toward the European Union such as releasing the last of what the bloc called political prisoners.

The EU suspended a travel ban on him and Belarus was invited to join the bloc's "Eastern Partnership," an initiative to bring former Soviet states apart from Russia closer to the EU.

"It's not my fault that we're not moving towards integration, that we are developing a bridge to the West, that we have entered the Eastern Partnership and so on.... In which direction are we supposed to move?" he said.

Minsk is under pressure from Moscow to recognize as independent states the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Russian forces drove the Georgian army out last summer. The EU has made it clear such a move would unravel any progress being made with Belarus.