Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has reaffirmed his country's commitment to a strategic partnership with Russia, though there are no talks currently on establishing a joint parliament.
Speaking in an address to parliament on December 5, the Belarusian leader, often described as "the last dictator in Europe," looked to allay fears among ordinary citizens that the country was moving toward a rebuilding of the former Soviet Union.
Lukashenka's speech comes as he is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 7-8 to discuss further integration within the Russia-Belarus Union State, a grouping that has existed mainly on paper since it was established in the 1990s.
"No one will ever sign documents that could cause us harm," said Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for a quarter of a century.
"We have never planned to join another state, including Russia, which is our fraternal nation," he added.
In recent months, Putin and Lukashenka have held several rounds of talks on the integration, with the latter stressing that the partnership should be equal.
But many ordinary Belarusians have expressed concerns that further integration with Moscow will mean a dangerous erosion of sovereignty.
In a traditional, annual live interview with selected television channels on December 5, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hailed the "very high" level of integration between the two countries.
"We have a union state. This is a big asset. Indeed, we often have disputes, and we utter some insults, especially in emotional outbursts. This does happen. But, objectively, the level of integration between our countries is very high," said Medvedev, who is due to hold talks with Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Rumas on December 5.
He also told journalists in Moscow that "there is no need" for the Belarusians to give up their sovereignty if they don't want to, but he pointed out that "any integration is a partial reduction of sovereignty."
Belarus is already a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, regional groupings that observers say Moscow uses to bolster its influence in the former Soviet Union and to counter the European Union and NATO.
Wariness about Moscow's intentions toward its neighbors has risen in the wake of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its military, political, and economic support for militants in parts of eastern Ukraine, leading to an armed conflict in which more than 13,000 people have been killed.
"The work on the program of deeper integration in the union state, the package of road maps, and the agreements pertaining to issues sensitive for both countries is at the final stage," Lukashenka said.
"The goal is to preserve our national values, which formed the basis of the political course of the country: people, fair treatment, and the sovereignty of Belarus," the 65-year-old added.