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  Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Russia's president sent a letter of greetings to his Belarusian counterpart on the former Soviet republic's Independence Day Monday
Russia's president sent a letter of greetings to his Belarusian counterpart on the former Soviet republic's Independence Day Monday. "I am sure that comprehensive development of integration-oriented cooperation along the principles of equal, mutually beneficial partnership will effectively help Russia and Belarus in fulfilling their ambitious economic and social tasks, and consolidating democratic institutions," the Kremlin press office quoted Vladimir Putin as saying in his message to Alexander Lukashenko. In April 1997, Russian and Belarusian leaders signed a union agreement on political, economic and military integration between the two post-Soviet nations. Moscow still maintains close ties with Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States and other Western nations for his crackdowns on political dissent. The Russian leadership supported the authoritarian president in his latest reelection bid, despite international observers' claims that he had won a third presidential term in March by rigging votes and stifling opposition and independent media. Military cooperation keeps developing, with the two countries holding their largest ever joint exercise last month, and Russia announcing its plans to set up a permanent air base in Belarus in the face of NATO's eastward expansion. Economic integration, however, has recently stalled over a number of issues, primarily a proposal by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to increase gas prices for Belarus. Gazprom has said it will almost quadruple gas prices for Belarus in 2007 unless the country agrees to set up a joint gas venture. Belarusian authorities have protested by saying the price hikes contradict the union agreement, which stipulates that gas prices for Belarus should equal Russia's domestic price.
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