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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia-Belarus Union Turns 6

At a news conference to mark the sixth anniversary of the Russia-Belarus Union on Tuesday, officials from both countries celebrated its "real achievements" and denied media reports that nearly 200 million rubles had been embezzled from the union's budget.

In December, Russian and Belarussian media reported that Russia's State Audit Chamber and the Belarus State Control Committee had found evidence that 181 million rubles ($5.8 million) was embezzled from the union's budgets in 2000 and the first half of 2001. The money was supposed to fund several programs, including a diesel automobile project.

But Sergei Kalashnikov, the deputy secretary of the union, denied that any money had been illegally taken.

He said some money was "not rationally used" and added that "measures are being taken to get the money back."

The union's budget has increased every year since the treaty aimed at bringing closer integration between Russia and Belarus was signed in April 1996.

This year, the union's budget will be about 3.4 billion rubles, subject to approval by a meeting of the union's parliamentary assembly, the Higher State Council, on April 12, Kalashnikov said. About 65 percent of the budget will be provided by Russia and the rest by Belarus, he said.

Much of the money will be spent on 35 programs in both countries, the secretariat of the parliament said in a statement. These include projects to develop customs infrastructure in Belarus, to deal with the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and to support several high-tech programs in optics, supercomputers and microwave electronics.

Another 10 percent of the budget will be used to fund the administrative structures of the union, the statement said.

Russia-Belarus Union officials provided no information Tuesday on how successful the union's programs have been. But officials gave as an example of the union's wider achievements the creation of about 35 model laws for a would-be single state unifying Russia and Belarus.

"We can speak of real achievements in the building of the commonwealth [between Russia and Belarus]," Kalashnikov said. "But what I think is holding us back is the absence of a clear vision of where our countries are going in their development."

Apart from this year's budget, the union's parliament will next week discuss the possibility of reducing gas prices and of lowering transportation tariffs for Belarussian companies using Russian railroads, allowing Belarussian goods to become competitive on the Russian market, officials said.

It is not clear if or when the Russia-Belarus Union might evolve into a single unified state.

Officials say there is still some way to go before the legislation of the two countries is brought into line, and a common currency is unlikely to appear at least until 2005.