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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lukashenko Says He'd Run for Presidency of Union

MINSK, Belarus -- Belarus' authoritarian leader said Wednesday he would run for president of a union of Russia and Belarus when the two countries' merger is finally completed, Interfax reported.

The two neighboring, Slavic ex-Soviet republics have signed a union deal that brings them closer together. But plans for a complete merger have stalled, partly because Belarus' moribund economy could be a further burden on Russia.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has been strongly pushing for the union to be completed. Russian liberals warn against the merger, and fear that Lukashenko has his eyes set on the Kremlin.

On Wednesday, Lukashenko confirmed their worries may be justified.

"If there is a union and its president is elected by the people, why should I not run against [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin for the position?'' Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Yeltsin is constitutionally banned from running for president of Russia when his current, second term expires in mid-2000.

But some observers have suggested that Yeltsin may be unwilling to give up power, and might want to complete the merger with Belarus in order to have another shot at a presidency.

Lukashenko's chances for the union's presidency appear slim. Russian liberals strongly denounce his authoritarian policies, while the hard-line vote is likely to go to Russia's Communists.

Lukashenko renewed his claim Wednesday that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine might come under a military attack by western democracies unless the three Slavic nations unite.

"If we do not, we will experience what Yugoslavia did ... If the Ukrainian leaders are not prepared yet [to join the union], we will wait,'' he said.

Ukraine has expressed no interest in a union with Russia, and instead seems to be looking for closer ties with NATO.

Meanwhile, Russia's flamboyant ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky called for a treaty on a merger with Belarus to be signed in late December, and for a public referendum on the issue to be held early next year, Interfax reported.

Zhirinovsky, although often in the limelight because of his eccentric remarks, wields little real power but has been seen lately as willing to float ideas backed by the Kremlin.