MOSCOW (AP) – The presidents of Russia and Belarus on Thursday signed a series of measures aimed at deepening the integration of the two countries, but without achieving a full merger.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko approved integration measures at a meeting in Minsk of the bilateral Supreme State Council for the State of the Union; Putin participated by video link from Crimea annexed by Russia.
The measures approved at the council were drawn up by the two longtime leaders in September and call for the creation of a single gas market and common financial markets.
Russia and Belarus agreed in 1999 to strengthen their political, economic and military ties, but the partnership has often been strained. Lukashenko has sometimes berated Moscow for trying to force it to relinquish control of valuable economic assets and ultimately relinquish its country’s independence.
However, Lukashenko is counting on Russian support as Belarus becomes increasingly isolated due to its harsh crackdown on the opposition, independent media and human rights groups in the wake of its re-election and massive protests last year.
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