The president, Alyaksandar Lukashenka, has made clear his wish to regain the levels of economic development reached by Belarus in the late years of the Soviet period. He seeks to reach this goal by 2001, just in time for the presidential election provided for under the constitution of 1996. Mr Lukashenka has always regarded close economic ties with Russia as an important ingredient for continued economic growth and has downplayed the need for ties with the West. During his meeting with a delegation from the Smolensk region in October, Mr Lukashenka declared that the economic union of Russia and Belarus would be strong enough to ensure good economic performance without any increased contact with the West. While these goals have permeated all aspects of the country's economic policy, in particular through great emphasis on trade links with Russia, they are coming under pressure because of Russia's growing weakness.