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    NATO EXPANSION MAKES BELARUS RUSSIA'S MOST RELIABLE ALLY: DUMA SPEAKER

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    MOSCOW, APRIL 2, RIA NOVOSTI - Belarus is the most responsible and reliable of Russia's allies in the context of NATO eastward expansion, says Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the State Duma-Russia's lower parliamentary house, and Russo-Belarussian Parliamentary Assembly President.

    Current developments make Russia-Belarus union progress timely and essential. All recent global political changes testify to the point, he stressed in a public statement a propos Russian-Belarussian Unity Day.

    "This Unity Day has coincided in time with another seven European countries joining NATO. Three of them-Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia-border on the [Russo-Belarussian] union state.

    "The situation inevitably puts us on the alert. Developments in the world are forcing us to make adequate efforts for Russian security, and that of Russia's closest allies. Fraternal Belarus has proved in deed that it is the most responsible and reliable of Russia's allies," Mr. Gryzlov went on.

    Russo-Belarussian economic integration and defence-oriented alliance are prominent in bilateral partnership, said the parliamentary leader.

    The two countries' fraternity is primary guarantee of their successes, he added-and proved the point with figures. Close on 400,000 new job opportunities have appeared, approximately 200 interstate and intergovernment understandings have been signed, and the bilateral trade turnover has hit a US$12.5 billion mark since Russia and Belarus established their union.

    The two countries are dynamically unifying their legislation, and buttressing political and social union institutions. Their legislatures and executives are inventing ever new forms of partnership.

    "As we see, current economic, political and cultural improvements are due to our union getting closer. Major efforts underlie every achievement. The previous eight years [since union establishment] saw major progress to both nations' wellbeing.

    "Whatever problems we may have encountered, we have not given up our determination to unite. The Russo-Belarussian union has no analogues and no alternatives. It is our future, and we are to work for it together," concluded Boris Gryzlov.

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