Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 8

Visiting Belarus on January 12-13, Russian justice minister Sergei Stepashin urged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other officials to set a five-year time frame for unifying the legislation of Belarus with that of Russia; and, as part of the process, to merge the Justice Ministry of Belarus with that of Russia within two years. Stepashin listed citizenship, foreign trade, customs, taxes, and privatization as the priority areas for legislative unification. Existing discrepancies complicate the implementation of the Russia-Belarus Union, Stepashin observed.

In his public response, Lukashenka effectively changed the subject by introducing the theme of NATO’s enlargement. He promised to give Stepashin for transmittal to the Kremlin a set of assessments of the situation and proposals for joint countermeasures, drafted by Belarusan security agencies. It was left to Prime Minister Syarhey Linh to turn down publicly Stepashin’s proposals as a "matter for a distant future." Citing "specific conditions in Belarus and Russia" that require separate national legislation, Linh remarked that Russia itself enacts its legislation "without informing anybody about it in advance… With such practices, the prospect of legislative unification becomes even more distant." (Russian agencies, January 12-13) Last week, Lukashenka’s chief spokesman criticized Moscow for foot-dragging on the planned creation of joint energy and transportation systems with Belarus. (Russian agencies, January 5)

The disagreement illustrates the divergent expectations that Moscow and Minsk attach to the Russia-Belarus Union. While Lukashenka is pursuing economic benefits for Belarus and its state-owned economy, Moscow seeks an economic and political merger. Just in the last few days, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov and CIS cooperation minister Anatoly Adamishin reaffirmed the goal of political unification of Russia and Belarus. (Rabochaya tribuna, January 13; Rossiiskaya Gazeta, January 8) Primakov favors paying the economic price of such unification; other senior Russian officials demur.

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