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Putin and Lukashenko downplay talk of merging their two nations, Russia and Belarus

    MINSK, Belarus — The leaders of Russia and Belarus pledged closer cooperation on military, economic and foreign policy but gave no indication Friday that the ex-Soviet neighbors were moving closer to a long-discussed full merger.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belarus stoked speculation that he could press for the creation of a unified state and maintain power by taking a job that would place him above the two nations’ presidents after he leaves Russia’s presidency next year.
    A more obvious alternative is to become Russia’s prime minister — a job proposed by Dmitry Medvedev, the official just anointed as Putin’s favored successor.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s office said last week that a draft constitution for a unified country’s government would be part of the agenda. But the Kremlin denied Thursday that the talks would touch upon a draft constitution, and Lukashenko dampened expectations Friday by saying that the talks weren’t going to produce any extraordinary results.
    ‘‘I was surprised that this visit has caused all this uproar in the West. There is no wider meaning here,’’ he said.
    After meeting together for more than four hours, Putin and Lukashenko chaired a broader session of top officials from the two nations, who discussed ways to strengthen political, economic and military ties.
    Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus must cooperate on foreign policy issues and plan a coordinated response to the planned U.S. missile defense system in Europe that both oppose.
    ‘‘The issue of strengthening cooperation on foreign policy is particularly important,’’ Putin said.
    A senior Russian general said last month that Moscow could provide Belarus with short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads as part of the Kremlin’s response to U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.
    Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but efforts to achieve a full merger have foundered.
    In the 1990s, Lukashenko pushed for the creation of a single state, apparently hoping to take the reins from Russia’s ailing President Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s election in 2000 demolished Lukashenko’s hopes to rule both countries.
    Two years later the Belarusian leader angrily rejected a Kremlin proposal for incorporating his nation into Russia. In a blow to Belarus’ Soviet-style economy, Russia this year doubled natural gas prices for Belarus — though the price still is lower than for other foreign customers.
    The two nations have been locked in tense talks over the price for gas for next year, and they are expected to reach a deal on a Russian loan that would help Belarus cope with a higher price.

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