Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 71

Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s plans for the Russia-Belarus Union are being seriously disrupted by Yugoslavia’s sudden offer to join that Union as a third contracting party. The offer is one which Russian politicians feel they can’t openly refuse, though even leading nationalist and pan-Slavic figures are counseling caution. Lukashenka, however, will be downright anxious to deflect Belgrade’s initiative for two main reasons. First, it casts Yugoslavia as a competitor with Belarus for scanty Russian resources. Second, it potentially threatens to stampede Belarus into a political union before Lukashenka has had a chance to extract the highest possible price from Moscow for his consent.

Lukashenka’s agenda with respect to the Russia-Belarus Union involves the earliest possible establishment of an economic union, featuring a variety of direct and indirect Russian subsidies for the Belarusan economy, while preserving the Lukashenka regime’s full political control of the country. For the second stage–possibly tied to Russia’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections–Lukashenka envisages bargaining with his country’s sovereignty in return for some exalted political post in Russia, possibly as Union president. Yugoslavia’s entry in the game and possible transformation of a dual union into a trilateral one could derail Lukashenka’s plans, cut into his share of the common economic pie, dilute his political influence and introduce new dynamics beyond his control.

Lukashenka discussed the situation yesterday by telephone with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and announced his intention to pay an official visit to Belgrade soon. The two “think-alikes”–Lukashenka’s compliment to Primakov–discussed the agenda of the Belgrade visit. Significantly, the official communique on the conversation made no mention of Yugoslavia’s possible accession to the Russia-Belarus Union (Itar-Tass, Radio Minsk, Russian TV, April 11-12). Lukashenka is likely to handle Belgrade’s offer by engaging in effusive pan-Slavist rhetoric while seeking to block any real steps toward a trilateral Russian-Belarusan-Yugoslav union.