Russia, Belarus call their union strong

Associated Press

Russian and Belarusian leaders said Thursday that a 10-year union between their nations has helped boost cooperation despite occasional differences.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the two ex-Soviet neighbors would continue moving toward closer integration. He said that the two nations agreed to solve disputed issues related to Russian energy shipments to Belarus.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko hailed the Russia-Belarus union as the strongest alliance on the former Soviet turf.

The 1996 union agreement envisioned close political, economic and military ties, but stopped short of a full merger. Moscow has been Lukashenko's main sponsor, but the allies have run into increasingly sharp economic arguments.

Both Medvedev and Lukashenko avoided mentioning divisive issues at a press conference wrapping up eight hours of talks in the Kremlin.

Lukashenko in the past has accused Russia of trying to reduce Belarus to a Russian province. He has refused to adopt the Russian ruble as the Belarusian currency and resisted what he described as Russian attempts to acquire key industrial assets in his nation.

But Belarus continues to depend on Russian loans and steeply discounted Russian oil and gas to run its industries. The 10-million nation also relies on the huge Russian market for its agricultural and industrial exports.


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