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Russia/Belarus: Russian Officials Support Integration With Belarus

Moscow, 14 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Leading Russian officials today expressed support for President Boris Yeltsin's proposal for closer ties with neighboring Belarus. But some opposition politicians denounced the timing of his call as political maneuvering.

The speaker of Russia's upper chamber of parliament (Federation Council), Yegor Stroyev, said today that the proposal to unite Russia and Belarus would benefit both countries. Interfax news agency quotes Stroyev's press secretary, Yuri Algunov, as saying the Federation Council would support measures to create a united legal basis to deepen integration between the two countries.

The chairman of the lower house (State Duma), Gennady Seleznyov, said Russian and Belarus parliamentarians would discuss proposals for a union at a scheduled meeting in Minsk later this month. Seleznyov added that there would be no obstacles for unification if referenda in both Russia and Belarus supported the proposal.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said today he is not against uniting with Belarus, but he denounced Yeltsin's proposal for being what he called "political intrigue."

Similarly, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, said Yeltsin's plan was a good idea, but he called its timing a "political trick" aimed at diverting the public's attention away from domestic political problems.

Yeltsin yesterday sent a letter to Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka proposing a series of steps towards speedier integration, including the possibility of holding a referendum on unification.