Lukashenko favors deeper relations with Russia

MINSK, September 29 (Itar-Tass) -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko favors larger cohesion with Russia but does not want Belarus to become a Russian constituent.

In his opinion, Moscow is not ready yet for a union with Belarus.

"It seems that you know better than me why Russia does not want a more serious union with Belarus," Lukashenko told the Russian press on Friday. He thinks that essential aspects of the union should be defined in a constitutional act, which is stipulated by the union treaty. The document was almost ready for public debates, but Russia suggested changes at the very last moment, he said.

"They said that we would give too much powers to the future union agencies," he said. "It is planned to adopt a constitutional act at a referendum, but this document will be weaker than the existent one. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We are strongly against weakening the union treaty."

Belarus "will not lose the statehood and will not become a constituent of Russia," Lukashenko warned.

He fears that the union development may soon slow down, as Russia is entering "a hot phase of parliamentary and presidential elections." "The adoption of serious and somewhat drastic decisions about the relations between Belarussians and Russians may also slow down," he said.

Lukashenko said that Belarus would ratify the agreement on union property simultaneously with Russia. The two presidents signed the agreement this January.

A common currency of Belarus and Russia may be discussed only after the adoption of the constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus Union, Lukashenko said.

"Before adopting a foreign currency unit, in this case, the Russian ruble, me, as the chief of state, our elite and our people must know why we are doing that," Lukashenko said. An answer should be given "in the draft constitutional act, which will be adopted at a referendum. So, we say let us adopt the constitution," he said. "The constitutional act will show us what Russia wants."

"The currency unit is a factor of state sovereignty and independence. We understand that, and the Russian Federation should understand that, as well," Lukashenko said.

Belarus is ready to sell Beltransgaz, but not at the book value, he said.

"The bid is $300 million, which is even smaller than the book value of approximately $600 million," he said. "Belarus may put the company on auction, and somebody, for instance, the Americans, will buy it for $2 billion. The selling of Beltransgaz to Gazprom at the book value would be my prison."

"The value of Beltransgaz, all the infrastructure inclusive, has been assessed at $5 billion," he said.

Russia plays the leading role in the CIS and determines the organization's future, Lukashenko said.

"The future of the CIS depends on Russia to a large extent, if it decides to be a gatherer of lands in the good sense of this word," he said. "So, Russia should decide what it wants - either the World Trade Organization (WTO) of an economic union at the CIS. The economy is the determinant," he said.

The CIS is not efficient enough so far, but the organization must be preserved just the same, Lukashenko said. He strongly objected to the suggestions, which are actually targeted at the disintegration of the CIS. "Presidents and department chiefs gather and speak one language. It is important that specialists resolve specific problems," he said.

"It is hard to speak of the CIS prospects, but the organization must remain as a floor for the discussion of economic, diplomatic and political problems," he said.