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Document declaring USSR dead missing from Belarus archives

Former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich says a historic document that proclaimed the death of the Soviet Union is missing from archives.

Shushkevich discovered the document was gone while working on his memoirs. "It's hard to believe in the disappearance of a document of such level, but this is fact," Shushkevich told The Associated Press. He said he believes the document has been stolen, probably with the intention of selling it to a collector.

Officials with Belarus' government and the Russia-dominated alliance of ex-Soviet nations confirmed late Wednesday they only have copies.

"We don't know where the original is," said Vasily Ostreiko, the head of the archive department of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which has its headquarters in the Belarusian capital.

The agreement's disappearance reflects the chaos that surrounded the Soviet demise.

On Dec. 8, 1991, Shushkevich hosted Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and Ukraine's President Leonid Kravchuk for secret talks at a government hunting lodge near Viskuli in the Belovezha Forest. The trio signed a deal declaring that "the U.S.S.R. has ceased to exist as a subject of international law and geopolitical reality," defeating Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts to hold the country together.

The agreement also announced the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance joined by nine other Soviet republics later that month. Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day.