MOSCOW (AP) — The presidents of Russia and Belarus say they have made significant progress on integrating their countries’ economies, including forming common energy and financial markets. The moves would bolster Belarus as it faces Western sanctions imposed in response to political repression and its forced diversion of an airliner carrying a prominent opposition journalist. They would also give Russia a strengthened position in a country that acts as a buffer with NATO members. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko met Thursday for nearly four hours. The talks came as Russia and Belarus began military exercises that are to involve some 200,000 servicemen, including 2,500 Russians sent to Belarus.
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