Back to the USSR

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MOSCOW: Breaking up, the former Soviet Republic of Belarus has found, is hard to do. Which is why Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko will sign a "Union Treaty" to bring his country, if not all the way, than at least most of the way back into the Russian orbit. Russian President Boris Yeltsin approved an agreement Monday that will create a single citizenship for residents of both republics and unify their foreign and economic policies. Faced with a shattered economy that makes Russia's look robust, Lukashenko has pushed for integration with Russia, which in any case supplies Belarus with everything from cheap fuel to tractor parts. For his part, Yeltsin hopes that swallowing up Belarus and extending Russia's borders westward could provide a counterweight to a rapidly encroaching NATO. The new entity will be governed by a bureaucrat-bloated "Supreme Council" featuring the two presidents, their prime ministers, parliament heads and the chairman of a vaguely defined "Executive Committee." The deal fuels speculation that Lukashenko is seeking to use it to springboard him to the head of a restyled Soviet Union. But don't look for integration to go smoothly. In a recent interview, Lukashenko, a hearty proponent of Soviet-style command economics who harbors a deep suspicion of the West, announced that union with Russia would require Moscow to rethink the free market reforms that have won fat checks from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.