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Belarus: Putin In Minsk For Union Talks

Minsk, 19 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Minsk today on a two-day official visit to focus on shoring up a largely unfulfilled union between the two countries. Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will preside over the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union, the highest state organ of the union between Russia and Belarus.

ITAR-TASS says talks between the Belarusian and Russian sides will focus on what the future union will look like.

Putin supports the idea of a union but on terms strictly favorable to Russia. Rejecting the notion of a union of two sovereign entities, Putin said Belarus should become a constituent part of the Russian Federation that will be subject to the Russian Constitution and a common head of state. Lukashenka has angrily rejected that proposal.

On 16 January in Moscow, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union approved a union budget for 2003 totaling 2.4 billion Russian rubles ($75 million), of which Russia is expected to provide 1.53 billion and Belarus 82O million rubles, "RFE/RL Newsline" reported, citing ITAR-TASS and quoting the union's executive secretary, Pavel Borodin. The two countries have earmarked funds for 36 union programs, including reinforcement of the union's external border, protection of common information resources, training of Belarusian servicemen at Russian military schools, and development of railways. Borodin told journalists that the Russia-Belarus Union has been developing along the same lines as the European Union.

Borodin said the EU has picked up a great deal from the former USSR, in particular, common citizenship, customs, and currency, as well as unified financial and tax policies. "Now we are about to borrow those main principles back. The fundamentals of the Soviet Union may prove very helpful in creating our union state," Borodin noted.