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Belarus boycotts Moscow talks

BELARUS boycotted a Moscow-led security summit yesterday to protest a Russian ban on Belarusian dairy products, deepening a politically charged dispute between the two neighbors.

The summit of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty went ahead without Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his delegation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the other leaders signed an agreement creating a joint rapid-reaction force that could bolster the power and prestige of the seven-nation alliance.

Russian officials shrugged off Belarusian claims that any deals clinched at the meeting would be illegitimate without a consensus. Medvedev said Uzbekistan also did not sign the agreement.

Russia slapped a ban on imports of Belarusian milk and other dairy products last weekend, a heavy blow to the country's agricultural sector, which employs about 10 percent of the country's 10 million population.

Russian officials say they will not allow Belarusian dairy imports until producers comply with new industry rules.

Belarus said it would withhold its approval on the joint security force until the dairy dispute is resolved. The message: Moscow risks losing the military support of Belarus - a buffer between Russia and NATO - if it withdraws support for its smaller neighbor's economy.

"Without a halt to actions that undermine the foundations of economic security of one's partners, it seems impossible to make decisions on other aspects of security," Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said.


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