World

Russia May Absorb Belarus: 'We’re Ready to Unite,' President Says

The president of Belarus has said the country is ready to unite with long-time ally Russia, raising the prospect of Moscow absorbing the eastern European dictatorship on the borders of Poland and Lithuania.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet state since the presidential post was created in 1994, said Friday his nation was ready to join with Russia, The Moscow Times reported.

Lukashenko made the comments on the third and final day of bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rumors have long abounded that Belarus could be absorbed into Russia under Putin’s watch, deepening the “union state” arrangement that has existed between them since the late 1990s.

“The two of us could unite tomorrow, no problem,” Lukashenko said Friday. “But are you—Russians and Belarusians—ready for it?” the president added, according to Interfax. “We’re ready to unite and consolidate our efforts, states and peoples as far as we’re ready.”

Putin tried to question the very concept of independent states in his subsequent remarks. “There are simply no fully independent states in the world. The modern world is a world of interdependence,” the Russian president said.

He pointed to the European Union as proof of his assertion. “There, the European Parliament makes more binding decisions for all members than the Supreme Soviet of the USSR once took such decisions for the Union republics. Is it not a dependency?” Putin asked.

Putin also suggested that U.S. military deployments in Europe have undermined nation sovereignty there.  “Do you think someone from European countries wants U.S. medium-range missiles to appear in Europe?” he asked.

“No one wants that. But they sit, they keep quiet. Where is their sovereignty? But apparently they believe that in the ultimate, general calculation, they are interested in such an organization in which they have invested part of their sovereignty,” he said.

Putin’s presidential term will end in 2024, and the current constitution prevents him for running again. It has been suggested that he could bypass these restrictions by creating a new nation through a union with Belarus.

The president voiced his support for the idea as long ago as 2011, when he said a union was “possible, desirable and wholly dependent on the will of the Belarusian people.”

In December, Lukashenko said the union state agreement had been a success, Russian state-backed news agency Tass reported. He declared, “The will of Belarusians and Russians toward unity will, as before, serve as a solid foundation for integration, multi-faceted cooperation and formation of common new history.”

However, the long-serving dictator has previously dismissed suggestions he would allow his nation to fall under Kremlin governance. “Sovereignty is sacred,” he said in December, amid a spat with Moscow over oil and gas supply. “If someone wants to break [Belarus] into regions and force us to become a subject of Russia, that will never happen.”

Belarus Russia unite Alexander Lukashenko Vladimir Putin Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko welcomes his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin prior to the Collective Security Treaty Organisation summit in Minsk, Belarus, on November 30, 2017. MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images

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