Mon, Jan 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Gas dipute reflects strain in ties

AP , MOSCOW

The hikes could gradually undermine Lukashenko's popularity by making it increasingly difficult to pay wages and pensions and keep state-run enterprises in the black.

Lukashenko has vocally criticized Gazprom's demands, saying it is ignoring the nations' close relationship.

He now peppers frequent tirades against the US and Europe with references to pressure from "the east" -- Russia.

But some Belarusians are blaming Lukashenko rather than the Kremlin.

"I am not prepared to endure the cold because of Lukashenko's intrigues," said Sergei Malushevsky, 53, a history teacher.

Lukashenko's opponents fear he will cede too much control over Belarus in exchange for continued Russian support -- an outcome they warn will hurt the country in the future regardless of who is in power.

"Through energy pressure, the Kremlin is trying to force Lukashenko to integrate according to the Russian scenario, which is extremely dangerous for Belarus," opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich said last week.

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