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Lukashenka, Putin Say Plans For Common Currency Moving Forward

Sochi, Russia; 16 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Russia and Belarus say they are moving ahead with plans to introduce a common currency, but the creation of an economic union continues to stall over negotiations on gas supplies. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met yesterday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Yesterday, Lukashenka said the ruble will become the common currency of the two countries on 1 January 2005. Putin offered his assurances that the common currency will not harm Belarus' sovereignty.

"A single currency is now functioning in the eurozone and that has not undermined the sovereignty of France, Germany, or other countries. On the contrary, their sovereignty has grown stronger because the economies of those countries have benefitted from the introduction of a single currency."

The two leaders also discussed economic measures that appear to set back plans for an economic union, including Russia's decision to start next year charging international prices rather than internal prices for gas shipments to Belarus.

Lukashenka announced after the talks that Belarus will increase transit costs for Russian supplies through Belarus, a move expected to offset Belarus' losses from the gas-price increase.