dog’s breakfast” is a prissy translation of bardak, a vulgar word a high Russian official used to describe the Russia-Belarus Union. Treaties signed in 1996, 1997 and December 1999 have not abolished reality, and reality is two separate and struggling economies with no real desire for integration.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s command economy offers shortages, inflation and isolation in equal measure. For Lukashenka, the Union State is the hat, Russian money is the rabbit, and he himself is Mandrake the Magnificent. For nationalist Russians, the Union State is a symbol of the restoration of Russian power in the Slavic heartland, but even nationalists feel no impulse of charity toward their sponging cousins.
And so when the Union’s Council of Ministers met August 30 in Moscow, chairman Mikhail Kasyanov, the Russian prime minister, could only note that Union revenues are running at 21 percent of budget through the first eight months of this year. Industrial integration is on paper only: Programs to create a “Union television set” and to co-produce diesel engines have been funded at 10 and 2 percent of budgeted levels. Belarus is supposed to contribute 35 percent of the budget, and Russia the rest. Both are well in arrears.
Lukashenka wants progress toward the treaty’s promise of a unified currency, but despite his frequent decrees against inflation the Belarusan ruble is worth less than three kopecks now at Russia’s central bank, and it is sinking daily. The Russians, who should understand currency risks as well as anyone, won’t bail out that ship.
The icy attitude of Russian money men like former Finance Minister Kasyanov leaves Lukashenka empurpled with rage. “We see an unprecedented regress of the Union,” he said after the August 30 meeting. “The men who used to impede its progress have now begun to dismantle it.”