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Putin and Lukashenko ski together, despite tense relations

The diplomacy of skiing to ease tensions: Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko showed up Wednesday on the slopes of Sochi (southern Russia), a less innocuous exit than it seems after several weeks of exchanges of criticism between Russia and Belarus.

The presidents of the two Allied countries settled together on a chairlift before descending some tracks of the "Gazprom Mountain Resort", a ski resort belonging to the Russian gas giant and located a few kilometers from the sites of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Exchanging a few words with tourists present, Vladimir Putin, less comfortable on skis than his Belarussian counterpart, did not rule out putting himself "maybe next time" to snowboarding.

But this exit, organized as the two heads of state hold bilateral talks in Sochi, comes after weeks of tension between the two countries and fierce statements by Alexander Lukashenko against his Russian neighbor.

Russia has changed its taxation in an unfavorable way for Belarus, which accuses it of financial pressures to maintain its political dominance over its neighbor. Moscow, for its part, considers that it does not have to subsidize Belarus without counterpart in the relations of these two close partners.

The change of taxes amounts to increasing the price of Russian oil exports to Belarus, which refines much of it to send it back to Russia or Europe, with an added value.

"Serious decisions do not tolerate unrest," Putin was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax as saying the prospects for an agreement between the two countries.

For his part, Alexander Lukashenko assured that the relations between the two allies are "unshakeable" but recalled the close ties between their economies, ensuring that Moscow would have much to lose from a weakening economic Belarus.

This is already the third meeting between the two presidents since December 25 to resolve this dispute.

Disputes between Russia and Belarus over gas and oil prices are common. They sometimes affect other areas, such as the "milk war" that raged between the two countries in spring 2017, Moscow accusing his neighbor of delivering poor quality products.

While Belarus' economy is extremely dependent on Russia, Alexander Lukashenko, the country's strongman for 25 years, has been trying to distance himself from Moscow since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Photo-tk-tbm / gmo / mct

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