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Russian dictator Vladimir Putin added that the Western sanctions are forcing Moscow and Minsk to work together to minimize economic damage and maximize production. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in turn, said that former Soviet republics should seek “alignment” with Russia and Belarus “if they want to preserve their sovereignty and independence." Russia and Belarus created the Union State, a binational confederation, in 2000. It remained a formality until recently but the two countries have stepped up talks on merging their state institutions and markets since 2019.