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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Says Visit Was All Politics




A smiling Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko left Moscow for Minsk on Thursday afternoon after two days of talks, insisting political ties between the two countries were stronger than ever.


But analysts said Lukashenko's whirlwind visit was more likely an attempt to sponge cash for an economy that is even more ailing than Russia's own.


Lukashenko held talks with Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Central Bank head Viktor Gerashchenko on Wednesday, before meeting President Boris Yeltsin, a long-time friend, Thursday morning.


"The friendship continues," Yeltsin said on television footage of the meeting in the Kremlin. The two leaders then kissed three times before Yeltsin offered Lukashenko "his usual seat."


"We've kept your chair warm for you," Yeltsin joked to Lukashenko, a popular authoritarian leader who is criticized in the West for strong-arm tactics.


At a news conference later in the day, Lukashenko denied that he had come to Moscow to ask for financial aid. Russia and Belarus signed a union treaty in May 1997, but so far it has achieved little, serving primarily as a springboard for nationalists to promote integration between the two countries.


"Practically all the leading television channels in Russia have described these negotiations as a result of which Russia and Belarus will settle their economic relations," Lukashenko said of his current visit. "This is not the case. There has been no talk of offsets or debts."


Far from talking finance, the two governments had discussed political issues, he said.


"Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] and I have had to give new impetus to the union between our countries, and to make further steps toward the integration of our states," he said. "The meeting was extremely instructive and useful."


In the near future the two countries will sign an agreement to grant all businesses in Russia and Belarus equal opportunities for pursuing economic activities, he said, meaning they would pay the same railway tariffs.


But as far as other questions were concerned, Lukashenko said there were many areas that former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had neglected to address during his tenure.


"These include mutual settlements for gas, oil and the flow of goods from one country to another," he said. "We must discuss these issues promptly."


Lukashenko also discussed the possibility of introducing a common currency with Russia, along the lines of the transferable currency used by the Comecon trading body in the Soviet Union.


"We discussed the problem of the conception of a transferable ruble, perhaps using the experience of the European Union, which implies more profound transformations," he said.


But Russian Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, said the only way a single currency would work is if Belarus dropped its own currency and adopted the Russian ruble.


Pavel Kandel, a foreign policy analyst at the Institute of Europe, said Lukashenko's visit coincided with a slump in his country's economy that rivaled even Russia's.


"His economy is in a terrible state, and he came to Moscow to ask for help." Kandel said. "Solving this problem was at the top of Lukashenko's list of priorities."