Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 123

In a recent interview, President Boris Yeltsin reiterated that his constitutional term as president ends next summer and that he thus has no plans to run again for the Russian presidency (Der Spiegel, June 20). Yeltsin’s comments in this regard may have been part of an attempt by the Kremlin to end, or at least reduce, the frenzied Russian press speculation that Yeltsin will try to engineer a third term in office. If so, they did not succeed, particularly when it comes to one possible scenario which some observers believe the Kremlin may use to try and extend Yeltsin’s authority: a union between Russia and neighboring Belarus and the ensuing creation of a new union leadership post, which Yeltsin would assume. Two leading analysts–Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation think-tank, and Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies–yesterday told the Interfax news agency they believe this scenario will indeed come to pass. Nikonov noted that Slobodan Milosevic did something similar several years ago, when, having reached the end of his constitutional term as Serbian president, he got himself elected president of the rump Yugoslav Federation. Nikonov said that a Russian union with Belarus could serve as a pretext for canceling both parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia, but warned that it would be “dangerous” to play “the Slobodan Milosevic variant.” Nikonov, it should be noted, is an ally of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, one of the main contenders to succeed Yeltsin, who is currently in a propaganda battle with the Kremlin.

For his part, Sergei Markov said that the “Milosevic variant” is “a very attractive model for the Russian president [because] it possesses that extremely vague legal gray area which Boris Yeltsin is so fond of.” Markov predicted that if Yeltsin becomes head of a Russia-Belarus union, the Russian presidential elections may go ahead as planned, but key Russian powers, including over the armed forces and the Central Bank, may be transferred to the union government (Russian agencies, June 24).

Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had a telephone conversation yesterday in which they discussed expanding trade and economic ties, deepening political cooperation and integrating the two countries. Lukashenka’s press service reported that First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko will visit Minsk on June 26-27 (Russian agencies, June 24).

Yeltsin, in his interview with “Der Spiegel,” said that the idea of a union between Russia and Belarus is rooted in “the commonality of the historical fate and friendship of the two peoples.” Yeltsin said the people of Russia and Belarus are close in “culture and spirit” and that the two countries have “common strategic interests.” He called the union idea a “voluntary step of the states and peoples in one another’s direction” (Der Spiegel, June 20).

However, in an interview published today, Lukashenka complained that Yeltsin had done nothing to forward the genuine integration of the two countries, and charged that members of Yeltsin’s inner circle were torpedoing efforts to create a Russia-Belarus union (Tribuna, June 25). Lukashenka has made similar charges in the past.