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Belarus/Russia: No Change In Integration Policy

Minsk/Moscow, 21 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior Belarusian official says Belarus will adhere to its policy of integrating with Russia.

Vladimir Sametalin, deputy director of the Belarus presidential office, was quoted by Interfax as saying it was absurd to suspect that Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will deviate from "the strategic course" of integrating Belarus with Russia.

At a meeting last week in Gomel, Lukashenka and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma agreed to bolster bilateral economic cooperation. Later Lukashenka said ties with Ukraine were more promising than relations between Belarus and any other CIS country. His statement was initially seen as indicating Belarus was turning away from Moscow in favour of closer relations with Ukraine.

Lukashenka's plans for integration with Russia have sparked protests from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BPF). In a statement, released yesterday, the BPF said "a new occupation of Belarus," however it was masked, will be "decisively repulsed." The BPF vowed to continue picketing outside the Russian embassy in Minsk.

Meanwhile in Moscow today, Aman Tuleyev, Russian minister for relations with the CIS republics, told Interfax he believed the integration of Belarus with Russia will be completed by the year 2000. Tuleyev told Interfax the integration would benefit both countries politically, economically and in a military-strategic sense and pointed out that "scores of military facilities of strategic importance for Russia are concentrated on Belarusian territory."