Since the Russia-Belarus Union treaty was signed late last year, the central banks of both countries have been struggling to implement the treaty’s goal of a single currency by the year 2005. The task is daunting, politically and technically.

Politically, Russia insists that the Russian Central Bank (RCB) act as the Union’s sole monetary authority. Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is unwilling to swallow that blow to his pride and power. But disguising the subjugation of the National Bank of Belarus to the RCB seems an easier job than linking the depreciating Belarusan ruble to its newly stabilized Russian brother.

At the official rate, the Belarusan ruble was 135,000 to the U.S. dollar at the end of January, 1999. A year later, with the decimal moved three places to the left, it stood officially at 356 (or 356,000) to the dollar, with the black-market rate at 965. A small government-run market where dollars can be bought in $100,000 lots operated recently at around 850 to the dollar.

Russia’s ruble, meanwhile, has stabilized at around 28 to the dollar, down just 15 percent in the past twelve months. Russian authorities have no interest in tying their newly buoyant ruble to the sinking Belarusan anvil. Monetary union is a long way off.