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Putin Backs Unification Of Russia With Belarus

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) meets with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Minsk in March.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said he supports calls for Russia to merge with its western neighbor, Belarus.

"This is possible and very desirable," Putin said when asked at a pro-Kremlin youth camp on Lake Seliger if Russia and Belarus could merge into one entity.

"It depends completely on the will of the Belarusian people," he added.

Belarus has been an independent state since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Russia and Belarus already have open borders, with their citizens able to travel freely and seek employment in either country.

Belarus is mired in its worst financial crisis since independence, and authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is under pressure to sell some of its most prized economic assets to Russians in exchange for a bailout.

compiled from agency reports

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