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Lukashenka, Putin Meet To Discuss Gas Price Increase

Moscow, 15 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met Russian President Vladimir Putin today to discuss Russia's decision to increase the price of its natural gas supplies to Belarus. Lukashenka said that the price hike, if carried out, would "push back" the unity of the two nations.

Lukashenka said "some bad things" are occurring behind the scenes, but that his talks with Putin will hopefully end what he called "insinuations coming from both sides." He gave no specifics.

"There are some bad things going on behind our backs, but I think our meeting will help put an end to all sorts of insinuations coming from both sides. I will tell you face to face what is going on behind our backs, but those processes are bad and I think the unity -- the aspiration for unity between our two peoples -- has suffered a most serious blow."

The two presidents met in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russia has declared that beginning in 2004, it will sell Belarus natural gas at international prices.

Belarus, which depends heavily on Russian energy supplies, currently receives its natural gas at a much lower price.

Mikhail Kasyanov, the Russian prime minister, said the price hike was necessary for putting Russian-Belarus relations on a rational footing.

Andrei Kobyakov, Belarus's economy minister, said the price hike could prompt retaliatory measures, including Belarus raising its tariffs for the transit of Russian natural gas to Europe.

For more on this issue, see Russia/Belarus: Putin, Lukashenka Meeting Comes Amid Mounting Tensions