Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 96

Interviewed in Minsk by representatives of Russian regional newspapers, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ruled out a political unification of Belarus with Russia into a single state. “Sovereignty is the ultimate value, and Belarus is a sovereign state,” Lukashenka declared. He went on to urge that the “union [of Russia and Belarus] be based on equal rights,” implying that he meant economic cooperation advantageous to Belarus.

Lukashenka nevertheless proceeded to blame the lack of movement toward real unification on certain Russian groups, obliquely targeting Russian government reformers and private-sector business interests. Those groups “oppose even the unity, let alone the unification of Russia and Belarus.” In a related statement the same day, Lukashenka reaffirmed his opposition to opening the door wider for Russian capital to privatize the oil-refining sector in Belarus. (Russian agencies, May 18)

The vintage Lukashenka position looks incongruous only on the surface. The president has no intention of giving Moscow his personal control over Belarus. His concept of “unity” with Russia is confined to the economic and security spheres. He pursues economic cooperation with Russia as a means to the goal of extracting unilateral advantages for his unreformed economy. Pocketing the benefits when they are forthcoming, he blames Russian “opponents of unity” when handouts are withheld. At the same time, Lukashenka finds it necessary for internal political reasons to monopolize the pro-Russian political rhetoric. By the same token, he forces the opposition into an “anti-Russian” corner which remains politically unpromising in Belarus.