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Russia: Union Agreement With Belarus Expected Tomorrow

Moscow, 1 April 1997 ((RFE/RL)) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin insists a union treaty aimed at forging closer ties with neighboring Belarus be signed as planned tomorrow, even though the document is still being amended, says a Kremlin spokesman.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky said today that the accord to be signed by Yeltsin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow will be a shorter version of the draft discussed in recent days. Yastrzhembsky did not say what parts of the draft would be left out. Russian Security Council secretary, Ivan Rybkin, flew to Minsk today for closed-door talks with Lukashenka to discuss aspects of the union treaty and suggest changes. However, few details have emerged from today's talks between Rybkin and Lukashenka.

Yastrzhembsky also said Yeltsin has called for a month of public discussion on an accompanying charter spelling out the treaty's statutes. But the president has ruled out a prior suggestion to hold a referendum on the draft of the actual treaty.

The agreement provides for coordination of economic reforms, creation of common transportation and energy systems, joint military activities and possible introduction of a common currency.

The treaty has come under criticism from some Russian politicians who say impoverished Belarus could become an additional burden to cash-strapped Russia. They also argue that Russia should be wary of forging closer ties with the authoritarian Lukashenka.

But, State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, said today that the opposition-dominated State Duma was quite satisfied with the draft. He said the Russian lower house of parliament is likely to ratify the treaty as early as next week.