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Belarus/Russia: Treaty On Bilateral Integration To Be Signed

Moscow, 1 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus are to sign tomorrow a formal document to deepen bilateral integration. But it is still not clear what this document will include.

The media report that work on the document is still in progress. But it is already known that different versions have been presented to Yeltsin for approval and that the issue has created a rift in both the government and the political establishment.

None of the versions has been published. RFE/RL has obtained one draft that provided for a union of the two countries which would closely coordinate their economic, foreign and military policies. But the draft sets no deadlines for its implementation and included numerous uncertainties, particularly in sections dealing with power sharing.

The draft envisaged setting up of a nine-member "High Council" consisting of the two presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary speakers and the CIS executive committee chairman. The council would elect its chairman for a two-year term of office. The chairman would represent the new Union internationally.

The council's decisions would require unanimous approval of its members. But the draft also says that each state in the union will have an equal status in decision-making.

It seems that the draft has been prepared by a group in the Russian government supportive of the union with Belarus. This group is said to include Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Yeltsin's foreign relations adviser Dmitry Ryurikov, and the president's representative at Russia's Constitutional Court, Sergei Shakhrai. Several governmental officials wishing to remain anonymous have also told our correspondent in Moscow that CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleyev and deputy prime-minister Valery Sirov might have had a hand in the draft.

But the issue has also prompted opposition of some powerful officials. Some pro-reform officials, including first deputy prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, have been reported as arguing that the integrative process is moving too fast and needs further examination, particularly with regard to its economic aspects. Pro-reform officials have been saying that Belarus must first restructure its economy, otherwise integration will become a major burden for RussiaUs already troubled economy.

And pro-reform Russian politicians have criticized the secrecy under which the draft has been prepared. They say Lukashenka's record of authoritarian rule would threaten Russian democracy.

But all members of the Russian leadership agree that unification with Belarus will be eventually in Russia's interests. Ryurikov said yesterday that Yeltsin had given his approval "in principle" to the union, but was likely to introduce amendments.

Yeltsin and Lukashenka are to sign the document during a Kremlin ceremony marking the first anniversary of the signing of an earlier integrative agreement. It also envisaged integration of the two countries' political and economic structures, but remained little implemented.

Representatives of the two parliaments are meeting in Moscow today, to discuss the draft. The final text is to be ratified by the two parliaments after the two presidents sign it.