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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Belarus Agree on Mutual Border

Russia and Belarus moved one small step closer to forming a union Wednesday when Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alexander Lukashenko agreed to create a mutual border encompassing the two countries and to produce weapons jointly.

But they appeared to have made no substantial breakthroughs in defining the structure of the union, which has been under development for three years.

Lukashenko seemed to be disappointed by the lack of progress.

"Everybody in Russia keeps saying: `We are prepared for the unification,' but they haven't dared to act,''' Interfax quoted Lukashenko as saying.

The Kremlin has appeared more interested in using the proposed union for its own internal political purposes than in actually uniting with its tiny, impoverished neighbor.

The union appeals to Communists and others whose nationalist feelings have been stirred by NATO's airstrikes against Yugoslavia. The Balkan nation has asked to join the union itself.

Yeltsin made a show Wednesday of warning journalists not to attack Lukashenko, an authoritarian leader who tolerates little dissent.

"Don' t you dare to criticize Belarus and Lukashenko. And if you do I will deal with you myself," Yeltsin groaned.

The two presidents privately discussed the details of the unification process in the Kremlin and signed 11 documents.

The defense agreement envisages coordination in the design and production of weapons that would arm a possible united military force.

They also agreed to create joint literary and arts awards, and to mark a common day commemorating soldiers who died while carrying out "international duty."

The real problem ahead is defining the structure of the union. Yeltsin is said to favor basing the union on confederative principles similar to those binding the European Union.

Lukashenko, however, has in the past proposed having a president of the union as well as a union parliament and government.

Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies, said Wednesday's signings were part of Yeltsin's tactical game to stay in power.

Piontkovsky drew a parallel between Yeltsin and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who in 1997 was elected president of Yugoslavia after serving the maximum two terms as Serbia's president.

There has been speculation that Yeltsin, after his second term expires next year, could try to stay in power by becoming president of the new union.

Andrei Ryabov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that by talking about uniting with Belarus, Yeltsin makes it difficult for other political forces to chart their way into power.

"The confusion regarding the structure of the union inevitably blocks any political initiative aimed at gaining power," Ryabov said.

The idea of the union was born three years ago on the eve of the 1996 presidential elections in Russia and was considered to have helped Yeltsin win re-election. By signing the agreement Yeltsin was thought to have stolen the theme of the restoration of the close ties between former Soviet republics from the hands of his Communist opponents.

In the years since, progress on the unification of Russia and Belarus has moved slowly.

However, all steps that have been made have had one similar characteristic: They have come during periods when Yeltsin faced a hostile political climate at home.