Lukashenko blasts Russia over union

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Russia on Saturday ofdragging its feet over plans for a union between the two ex-Soviet states.Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past appeared cool towards theplan to create a single state joining Russia and its smaller westernneighbour. But Putin unexpectedly upped the stakes last month, saying hewas ready to hold a referendum on the union. The Kremlin said earlier thisweek that Putin had sent a letter to Lukashenko, suggesting a joint workinggroup and giving options for further integration. Yet Lukashenko - who hasfrequently touted the union idea which he agreed in 1996 with Putin'spredecessor Boris Yeltsin - said Russia was not taking any effectiveaction. "I received the letter after Russian television channels hadannounced it. This is just a stunt," Lukashenko told reporters. "If theRussian leadership wants to denounce this agreement, to destroy it, thenlet them go ahead, but without us. We will not take part in that." Headded: "In the letter there was nothing new for us. I have always spoken infavour of a union, but they are proposing incorporation. The Russianleadership has admitted it does not want a union of equals." The form ofunion between the two states, on the drawing board for over six years,remains to be agreed. Lukashenko has said Belarus would not become one ofRussia's regions. Putin last month spoke of a single state under onepresident, with possible elections for a unified leadership to be held onMarch 2004 - around the time when Putin himself is due to run forre-election, the Russia Journal wrote..

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