Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 147

Belarus deputy prime minister Valery Kokorev and other Belarus officials complained during the latest session of the CIS Oil and Gas Council in Minsk that prices for Russian fuel supplies "are nearing world levels," forcing Belarus into heavy indebtedness to Russia. (14) President Aleksandr Lukashenko has similarly complained several times in recent days that Moscow continues raising prices for fuel and other exports to Belarus and excessively taxes Belarus goods delivered to Russia. Complaining that his appeals to Boris Yeltsin have remained fruitless, Lukashenko described the Russian actions as incompatible with the customs union among the two countries and with proposals for an economic union. He said that he has had to respond by imposing excise duties on Russian alcohol and tobacco exports to Belarus and by launching an effort to redirect up to 50 percent of his country’s exports toward the West, instead of Russia. On political relations, Lukashenko told Belarus journalists that "both Russia and Belarus would lose a lot if they formed a single state." They would gain by maintaining friendly relations, including foreign policies that are "90 percent similar." The president ruled out a possible loss of statehood through economic cooperation with Russia. (15)

Supreme Soviet chairman Mechislau Hryb in turn told journalists that "it is better for Russia if Belarus is a friendly sovereign country rather than another constituent republic of the [Russian] Federation;" and urged efforts to find fuel suppliers other than Russia. Warning that candidates in Russia’s upcoming presidential campaign may use the issue of Russia-Belarus unification as a trump card, Hryb argued that most Belarusians would vote for sovereignty in a referendum on the issue. (16)

Lukashenko and other Belarus officials are evidently disappointed in the Russian government’s unwillingness to subsidize the Belarus economy. To avoid this, both the Gaidar and the Chernomyrdin governments have rejected proposals for an economic union or for monetary unification with Belarus, let alone political unification. The impulsive Lukashenko for all his ingrained Russian orientation has also occasionally vented bitter resentment over the former inferior status of Belarus vis-a-vis Russia. Hryb for his part, unlike Lukashenko, has tended to emphasize constitutional arguments against political unification with Russia.

Russia’s Army in Moldova Digging In.