Belarus will not be incorporated into Russia, president says

March 1, 2019

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The president of Belarus once again dismissed the possibility that Russia could incorporate his nation as the two former Soviet republics discuss how to integrate their economies more, including a possible joint currency.

Responding to a question at a news conference on Friday, President Alexander Lukashenko said the two neighbors are discussing ways to further deepen their close ties, but that Russia’s absorption of Belarus isn’t on the agenda.

“Belarusians want to be with Russia, but they want to live in their own apartment,” Lukashenko said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that that the countries, which already have close economic, military and political ties, should integrate even more closely so that Belarus can benefit from lower prices for Russian natural gas.

Lukashenko, Belarus’ leader for nearly a quarter century, has repeatedly spoken on the subject, assailing a recent increase in prices for Russian energy supplies as part of Moscow’s efforts to persuade his country to abandon its independence.

“I understand what all those hints mean: You get the oil but you break up your country and join Russia,” he said in December.

During his leadership, Belarus has relied on Russia’s loans and cheap energy to keep its Soviet-style economy afloat.

In Belarus, there have been fears voiced that the Kremlin could be hatching plans to incorporate the country. They have been fueled by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

Lukashenko acknowledged Friday that the two countries should deepen their integration and said he would accept a plan to have a joint currency.

He noted that it shouldn’t be the Russian ruble, but a new shared currency. He added that he would agree to have the single printing center in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. The statement didn’t seem to mark a breakthrough in the joint currency discussions that have been going on for years with little progress.