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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia-Belarus Union Pens Deals, Eyes Anthem

APBelarussian President Alexander Lukashenko talking with President Vladimir Putin at Friday's Supreme State Council meeting in Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko met Friday to push forward the bid to unify their two countries, signing a raft of economic agreements, presenting the Russia-Belarus Union's first awards and announcing a contest to write an anthem for the union.

The Supreme State Council, which consists of both presidents and other top officials, said after the meeting that Russia and Belarus will now conduct a unified trade and customs policy toward third countries, international organizations and corporations, and a coordinated policy on issues over entry into the World Trade Organization.

The council also said that as a first step toward unifying business conditions, Belarussian companies will be allowed to take advantage of Russia's low domestic gas and transportation tariffs, a move that will make their goods more competitive in Russia.

"We have implemented many of the plans that are needed to equalize economic conditions in Russia and Belarus and laid out concrete ways to implement those steps," Lukashenko said, according to Interfax.

However, Putin told the council that Russia and Belarus still have a long way to go in harmonizing their laws and bringing their economies closer together before they can form a full-fledged union. "Building the union is difficult and lengthy, because it affects all spheres of life of our countries," he said.

The council approved a 2002 budget of 3.3 billion rubles (about $105 million), or 1 billion rubles more than last year, Interfax reported. Russia is to contribute the lion's share of the budget, or 1.67 billion rubles, Belarus will provide 900,000 rubles and the rest is to come from reimbursed loans.

Fifty-seven percent of the budget is to be spent on industrial programs, 24.7 percent on security, military and technical cooperation programs and 10.2 percent on education, culture, social politics, health and mass media programs.

The council also decided to draw up a draft of a constitution for the union by the end of the year and hold a competition for an anthem for the union. Officials said the date for the contest would be later this year and 500,000 rubles would be awarded to the winning entry.

The council also handed out the union's first awards, recognizing Belarussian playwright Alexei Dudarev, Belarussian writer Ivan Shamyakin and Russian actor Alexei Petrenko.

Putin told reporters Friday that concrete results of the efforts to create the union is already being felt on both sides of the border.

However, critics, who have called the effort a waste of money and time, said the union was no closer now to reality than it was six years ago when it was set up.

"It is the political initiative of two frightened, post-imperial politicians," said Pavel Daneiko, a former head of the Belarussian Central Bank. "The Russian is afraid of being by himself, and the Belarussian is terrified of being left in global isolation. ... The result was that they found each other in the sea of hostility and stuck together.

"The way it is, such a union will benefit neither Belarus nor Russia," said Daneiko, who now heads the advisory council of the Belarus Privatization and Management Institute. "Normal processes of economic integration can only be implemented in one way -- with the European Union. We must develop together with Europe and the rest of the Western world."

Leonid Zlotnikov of the Belarus Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers agreed. "What is going on now is the integration of two autocratic regimes, the integration of bureaucracy and not the integration of people."