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9 Aug, 2021 13:25

Belarus unlikely to become part of Russia as Putin doesn’t need ‘another headache,’ Lukashenko says, promising to resign ‘soon’

Belarus unlikely to become part of Russia as Putin doesn’t need ‘another headache,’ Lukashenko says, promising to resign ‘soon’

Talk of Belarus, a former Soviet republic, being fully absorbed as part of Russia is premature, the country’s embattled leader Alexander Lukashenko has said, arguing that the two can still have a close relationship without it.

Speaking as part of an interview broadcast by BelTA, the veteran president argued that “to strengthen integration in the economy, you do not need to be part of the same body.” According to him, Belarusians “highly value that, after a number of centuries, they have become a sovereign and independent nation.”

In response to suggestions that the eastern European nation could once again be run from Moscow, as it was during the Soviet Union, Lukashenko said that it was unlikely there was appetite for it on either side of the border. “I always see it through [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s eyes,” he said. “Does Russia need another headache? He understands it this way – the world has changed.”

Last month, Putin said that the two nations, joined as part of the ‘Union State’, were already at a “degree of integration,” but that this was nowhere near as advanced as in, for example, the European Union. He added that the direction of travel would likely be towards greater co-operation and inter-operability. “We are in favor of this, and we’ll work in partnership with all our neighbors and friends,” he concluded.

In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sounded the alarm over a potential total integration of the two nations, saying that such a move would exert pressure on Kiev. “There is a very dangerous situation in Belarus on our northern border. Today, the army there is under the command of the Belarusian regime, but we are watching Russia and Belarus constantly work on agreements with each other, which could perhaps include defense,” Zelensky speculated.

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Weeks beforehand, though, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Moscow newspaper Argumenty i Fakty that there are “no plans for a merger” between the two countries, but argued that “the deepest possible integration” would be of interest to “both Russians and Belarusians.”

As part of the same interview, Lukashenko again reiterated that he is planning to stand down from his country’s top job. His government has faced widespread protests and civil unrest following last summer’s presidential elections, which the opposition and many international observers say was rigged in his favor. “There’s no need for guessing about when Lukashenko will leave and so on – it will be very soon,” he pledged. The embattled leader has repeatedly said he will call fresh elections when a new constitution is in place, but the opposition has decried the process as a delaying tactic.

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