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Russia, Belarus Fail To Reach Agreement At Sochi Meeting

Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The presidents of Russia and Belarus failed to find agreement on issues ranging from emergency credits to gas prices when they met for their first bilateral meeting in four months.

The two former Soviet republics officially share a customs union but have been bickering for months over trade, loans and moves by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to improve relations with the West.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted three hours of talks with Lukashenka in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on August 27. Neither leader turned up to speak to the media after the negotiations.

When asked if any agreements had been signed, Medvedev's chief foreign policy advisor Sergei Prikhodko said, "No, no agreements were signed."

"The presidents confirmed their desire to make extra efforts to more actively solve the problems that have stacked up in relations," he told reporters.

Lukashenka, long criticized in the West as authoritarian, has irked Moscow by seeking closer ties with the European Union.

When Russia in May said it was suspending a $500 million credit for Belarus -- the second tranche of a promised $2 billion rescue loan -- Lukashenka ordered his ministers to "look for allies elsewhere."

Belarus has negotiated a $3.5 billion loan facility from the International Monetary Fund to help its economy deal with a slump in exports.

Prikhodko said the presidents had agreed to ask their governments to hold consultations on economic cooperation.

Belarus has refused to join Russia in recognizing the independence of Georgia's rebel provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In July Lukashenka snubbed a Moscow summit of a Russian-led regional security summit.

Lukashenka says he has been forced to seek other allies because Russia has hiked gas prices and insists Belarus should enjoy Russian domestic prices of less than $60 per 1,000 cubic meters.