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Putin: Russia-Belarus Merger 'Possible' And 'Desirable'

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) poses to the press as he prepares for arm wrestling during his visits in the Seliger youth educational forum. | getty

SELIGER LAKE, Russia — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he supports calls for Russia to merge with its western neighbor Belarus.

Belarus has been an independent state since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.

Speaking at a Kremlin youth camp, Putin said Monday the return to Soviet-style unity is "possible, desirable and wholly dependent on the will of the Belarusian people."

Russia and Belarus already have open borders, with their citizens able to travel freely and seek employment in either country.

Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a fierce defender of his country's sovereignty.

But Belarus is mired in its worst financial crisis since independence, and Lukashenko is under pressure to sell key parts of its industry to Russians in exchange for a bailout.

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