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BelaPAN Information Company (Belarus)

Russian politicians comment on Lukashenko's meeting with Putin

August 15, 2002

Minsk, 15 August. Russia's Rosbalt news agency interviewed Russian politicians on the eve of the August 14 meeting between Belarusian leader AlexanderLukashenko and President Vladimir Putin.

Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy chairman of the State Duma faction Yabloko, said that Lukashenko would limit his visit to "demagogic statements, as usual". "His main task is to preserve his image of a unification advocate in Russia, and defender of national interests, in Belarus."

"The union of Russia and Belarus has no prospects", while Lukashenko is in power, stressed Mitrokhin. "This will become even clearer if the Belarussians insist on their integration plan. However, if the Russian project is accepted, things might work out well."

Russia's Liberal Democratic Party's propaganda chief, Stanislav Zhebrovsky, believes that any meetings between the two leaders are useful.

"It is much better to meet and discuss things tete-a-tete than to exchange shots hundreds of kilometres apart."

He said he was certain that forces both in Russia and Belarus were trying to sabotage integration efforts.

"We could unify within hours if this was what the two leaders wanted. It takes political will. The thing is, there are people behind the integration who are not interested in the unification of the two nations."

Russia would benefit from a merger with Belarus, as "it is impossible to exist with open borders but different economic systems," added Zhebrovsky.

Konstantin Zatulin, who heads the Institute for the Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, expressed support of Mr. Putin's proposal that the two countries unite in a federation. He said that other alternatives, especially the European Union pattern, would drag out integration.

"Of course, some details on the construction of a single state may be and must be specified. However, if there is even a shadow of a doubt as to whether the Russian and Belarusian citizens want it, a referendum could be held, but preparations for the referendum should not delay the unification steps that the Russian President declared."

Lukashenko may be afraid of changes in his own country, Sergei Karganov, head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, told Russia's NTV channel.

"We are going to build one state with Belarus, where Lukashenko is the lawfully elected leader. I believe there will be a decent role for him in the union state. It is quite a different matter that he fears reforms in his own country, and we need to push him to carry out these reforms. In my view, any Belarusian leader should be guaranteed the role of vice-president or head of the Federation Council in the unified state."

The Union of Right-Wing Forces (URF) leaders are sceptical about the Belarusian leader's visit to Moscow. Valery Khomyakov, member of the URF Federal Political Council, called Lukashenko "the main obstacle to the two nation's integration".

"Lukashenko has been living off this idea for a fairly long time, as an overwhelming majority of Belarusians want to live in Russia."

"The Belarusian elite's problem is that they want to keep their seats, which is impossible if Russia and Belarus unite," added Khomyakov.

He stressed that "Belarus should get a new president and enter the Russian Federation wholesale, as a province, or retail, as six regions."

"Belarus would certainly benefit more from the former scenario, as its leaders would retain control over all the regions, but within Russia. However, as long as Lukashenko is in power, he will not agree to this."

See also:
Relationship with Belarus

BelaPAN Information Company (Belarus). August 15, 2002

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