Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 4

Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s deputy chief of staff, Sergei Shakhrai, stated yesterday that "full integration" and "unification" of Russia and Belarus "can become the most effective response to NATO’s eastward enlargement…It meets their strategic interests, rallies society, consolidates power, and increases Russia’s international authority." (Itar-Tass, January 6) The statement represents the most open official acknowledgment to date of the geostrategic motivation behind the Kremlin’s support for Belarusan dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and his policy to merge Belarus with Russia.

Also yesterday, Russia’s monopoly Gazprom denied recent reports that it had reduced or was planning to reduce gas deliveries to Belarus because of the latter’s arrears, which currently exceed $100 million. Moreover, 1997 deliveries will not be reduced from the 1996 level, which averaged some 55 million cubic meters monthly, Gazprom officials stated. The Belarusan government has in turn felt emboldened to announce that it will count on an increase in the deliveries. (Itar-Tass, January 6; ORT, January 4) Last April 2, on signing the Russian-Belarus Community treaty with Lukashenko, Russian president Boris Yeltsin announced a write-off the debts of Belarus to Russia.

A year-end review of Russian foreign policy particularly noted that at the recent OSCE summit in Lisbon, Russia’s delegation led by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin "spared no effort to defend Lukashenko." (Segodnya, December 31-January 1)

Russian Delegation Visits Azerbaijan.