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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, Lukashenko Push Belarus-Russia Union Forward

MINSK — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday joined his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in talks on strengthening the economic basis of their nations' union, including establishing a single currency.

The two leaders were attending a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Belarus-Russia Union, the body that governs the loose union. The union treaty, signed late last year, calls for the eventual merger of the two countries' currencies.

Lukashenko, who wants a tighter merger with Russia, has long urged Moscow to move faster with introducing a single currency. But Russian officials have been wary, apparently because of Belarus' soaring inflation, unreformed Soviet-style economy, and deep poverty.

Still, the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as saying Thursday that the union leaders would sign "the most important documents connected with the introduction of a single currency ... and with the creation of necessary conditions for this."

Officials said in October that the two presidents would sign a treaty providing for Belarus to adopt the Russian ruble as its official currency by 2008. The Russian ruble would start circulating in Belarus on Jan. 1, 2005.

"These measures can be realized with the aid of our stabilization fund, which will be established with our assistance," Kasyanov said, according to ITAR-Tass.

Earlier this month, he announced a tentative agreement for Russia to provide a dlrs 100 million loan to Belarus, part of which would go into the stabilization fund.

Russia and Belarus are predominantly Slavic, Orthodox nations and share close cultural and linguistic ties. Belarus' strategic position between Russia and Poland and on export routes to Western Europe also makes it a valuable economic partner for Russia.