Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 14

Liberal imperialism, a recurrent Russian phenomenon, came up yesterday with its own blueprint for merging Belarus with Russia. This plan is more centralist and even more constraining to Belarus than either the Kremlin or the Russian communist proposal. The plan was revealed following the leadership meeting of the “right-of-center” coalition–Just Cause (JC)–recently founded by Yegor Gaidar, Boris Nemtsov, Anatoly Chubais, Sergei Kirienko, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and like-minded liberal reformers. The meeting participants mandated Nemtsov to work out the details of the concept of Russia-Belarus “integration” and to organize an international conference on how to put it into practice.

Outlining that concept yesterday, Nemtsov ruled out the confederal elements which underlie the Moscow-Minsk political and economic negotiations. The Nemtsov and Just Cause plan entails no negotiated “union” and no special arrangements, but instead Russia’s outright absorption of Belarus. Belarus would simply become a “subject of the Russian Federation” on a par with the existing autonomous federation republics. The president of Belarus would sit in Russia’s Federation Council, as do the presidents of the other Russian “federal subjects.” Were Belarus to be granted a higher status, other republics would, in turn, demand an upgrading of their status, Nemtsov warned–which would, he said, “pose a gigantic threat to Russia’s unity and integrity.”

Nemtsov noted three major Russian gains were it to absorb Belarus. First, “we would enlarge Russia’s market.” Second, the East-West oil and gas export pipelines via Belarus would come under Russian control. And, third, the Russian state would once again reach the borders of Central Europe. Nemtsov claimed that Russia could easily afford the economic costs of political unification with Belarus, including the increase of Belarusan salaries and pensions to match Russian levels. He pledged “lastly, that freedom and democracy would be restored in Belarus” (Russian agencies, January 20).

Apparently inspired by the model of German unification, these promises ignored essential differences: that the Russian state has yet to observe democracy at home; and that it is, currently and for the foreseeable future, incapable of paying salaries and pensions even to its own citizens, let alone to millions of new ones. He similarly seemed to ignore the fact that Belarusan democrats–including the non-nationalist liberals there, who governed until 1994-95–struggle for independent Belarusan statehood.