Belarus leader expects no progress in ties with Russia for 3 yrs

MINSK, September 29 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus' president expressed pessimism Friday about any progress in relations with Russia over the next three years, when its ally will be focused on parliamentary and presidential elections.

Russia will be electing a new parliament in 2007 and a new president in 2008.

"The Russian Federation is entering a busy period - parliamentary and then presidential elections," Alexander Lukashenko said.

"Over the next three years, we will avoid making any serious or radical decisions in our bilateral relations," he told Russian journalists, adding that normally officials abstain from any dramatic moves in the economy or politics at such times.

The two countries have been in talks over the formation of a Union State since December 1999 when Lukashenko and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a treaty to that effect. The treaty was designed to restore the common political, economic, legal, defense and humanitarian ties of the two countries.

However, progress on the project has been stalled over a number of issues, including attempts by Russia, Belarus' main natural gas supplier, to make gas prices conditional on its gaining control over Belarus' gas pipelines leading to Europe.

The Russian and Belarusian presidents signed agreements January 24 on the union of the two countries' property and on the right of their citizens to move freely on the territory of both countries. However, problems arose in the implementation of the property agreement.

Lukashenko, whom the United States has branded "Europe's last dictator," said bilateral contacts have become less intensive.

Negotiations have been progressing with difficulty on a constitutional act, a transitional constitution for the Union State, which the two countries have been considering since 1997. The document is designed to establish common economic, customs and political regulations.

The sides seemed close to an agreement last year and planned a referendum on the document's adoption, but Lukashenko said Russia unexpectedly proposed new amendments out of concern that the Union State and its executive bodies would have too much authority.

"It is not Belarus' fault that a Constitution has not been adopted or a referendum held," he said.

Lukashenko said he disagrees with the amendments Russia has been proposing.

"We are strongly against the Constitution being weaker than the agreement to create the Russia-Belarus Union State, currently in effect," he said.

Last Thursday, Secretary of the Union State, Pavel Borodin, said the constitutional act could be put to a referendum by the end of 2006.

"I believe it is realistic to hold a referendum by December," he said.

Borodin also said that the Supreme State Council of the Union State will convene in November to discuss the document.

"This November, we plan to hold a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State to consider the draft constitutional act," Borodin said, adding that the session will also focus on the structure of the union's executive bodies, a common currency, and a date for electing a union parliament.

Borodin said in June that a common currency - the Russian ruble - will be put into circulation by the end of 2006. But negotiations on the ruble have been advancing slowly, and Lukashenko said the common currency issue also has to be spelled out in a referendum.

On September 26, the Council of Ministers of the Union State gathered to discuss a series of common industrial production programs.

In reply to frequent reproaches that he and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are nostalgic for Soviet times, Lukashenko said he does not seek to restore the Soviet Union by uniting the two countries.

But he added that it would be wise to borrow the best from the U.S.S.R.'s experience and reject those aspects that bring tanks out onto the streets.