Medvedev says Belarus has not been asked to become part of Russia

BARVIKHA, November 23 (RIA Novosti) - President Dmitry Medvedev has said Moscow wants to build a closer union with Belarus, but has not invited the country to become part of Russia.

"There may be discussions on the issue, this is quite normal. But no legal invitation has ever been made," Medvedev told Belarusian journalists on Monday, adding that such a decision could only be taken through a referendum.

However, he said the countries "should target much greater economic integration and similar trade rules."

The ex-Soviet neighbors have been in talks since 1997 to establish a Union State with a common economic, customs and political space, but negotiations have been complicated by a host of issues, including energy and financial disputes.

Medvedev also said that the nations should boost bilateral military ties, which would help consolidate security in Europe, and noted that Moscow and Minsk plan to hold defense exercises every two years.

He highlighted the close economic ties between the countries.

"Over the past two-and-a-half years over $3 billion has been lent [to Belarus] - we do not issue such loans to anyone else," Medvedev said.

However, he denied that Russia has sought to influence Belarusian politics.

Belarus "is an independent, sovereign state... All political life in the country follows its own scenario, and we have nothing to do with this scenario," he said.

Medvedev also said he expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on the sidelines of a meeting of the EurAsEC Inter-State Council to be held in Minsk later this week.


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