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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Lukashenko Talk About Integration

APPutin listening to Lukashenko during their meeting Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
President Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday discussed ways to add substance to the ambitious Russia-Belarus Union between their two countries.

"Citizens of our nations are expecting a continuous expansion of Russian-Belarussian integration," Putin said at the start of his talks with Lukashenko in St. Petersburg.

Lukashenko, who has become a pariah in the West for his crackdowns on the opposition and independent media, hailed unification efforts.

"We have done a lot to make integration processes between our nations irreversible," Lukashenko said. "There is no alternative to our unity."

Lukashenko said Tuesday's talks should focus on a draft constitution of the proposed single state that has long been in the works. However, Russian news reports said that the two leaders were unlikely to reach a conclusive agreement on Tuesday.

Online newspaper Gazeta.ru quoted State Duma Deputy Vladimir Pligin, a member of the joint constitutional working group, as saying that the structure of the union would resemble the European Union, with rotating chairmen -- laying to rest speculation that Putin could use the post of union president to continue his rule beyond 2008, when he is required by the Russian Constitution to step down after two terms.

The 1996 agreement called for close political, economic and military ties, but the two nations' movement toward a declared a goal of creating a single country has been stalled.

Lukashenko has rejected Putin's integration proposal, which was floated in 2002 and under which Belarus would essentially be absorbed by Russia. And a plan to introduce the Russian ruble as the two nations' single currency starting in January 2005 has run into problems amid Belarussian officials' concerns that it would give Russia too much leverage over the nation of 10 million.

The Russia-Belarus Union has remained largely on the drawing board despite regular summits. But shared concern over the so-called color revolutions that brought Western-leaning leaders to power in Ukraine and Georgia has brought Russia and Belarus closer together recently.

Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West, is running for re-election in March and has vowed that there will be no revolution.