Lukashenka skips summits in Russia

Alyaksandr Lukashenka did not travel to Russia's Saint Petersburg to attend Monday's summits of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, played down Mr. Lukashenka's absence.

"All documents that will be signed today were previously fully agreed upon with our Belarusian colleagues," Russia's news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying. "And the signed documents will be simply sent to Minsk, so that Alyaksandr Grigoryevich could sign them there."

The reason for Mr. Lukashenka's decision to skip the summits was not immediately known. Natallya Eysmant, Mr. Lukashenka's press secretary, did not answer the phone on Monday afternoon.

The Eurasian Economic Union's Customs Code was to be signed at the December 26 summit.

Speaking earlier this month, Mr. Lukashenka warned that the Customs Code should take Belarus' national interests into account.

"After it comes into force, not a single citizen of Belarus, including me, should ask the government, which drew up and discussed the document, what we have in reality and why things have gotten worse than before," he said on December 9. "No matter how many compromises may have been made on the Customs Code, and I don't rule out possible compromises in some areas, we should by no means make the existing social and economic situation in Belarus worse."

Mr. Lukashenka questioned the efficiency of the EAEU, noting that trade between the member states had fallen by around 55 percent since its establishment.

He also raised concerns about the draft Customs Code, noting that, despite the government's promises, it did not provide for a gradual decrease in the limits on duty-free imports by individuals.

In addition, Mr. Lukashenka expressed doubts about the rates of import duties set by the draft document. "If we get some benefits it's good, but if we lose out, as your report says, then why do we need such a union?" he said, addressing Finance Minister Uladzimir Amaryn.

The draft Customs Code was approved by the EAEU prime ministers on December 16.