Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 26

Pavel Borodin is an empire builder in more than one sense. As Kremlin property manager during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, Borodin created a multibillion-dollar business empire, heavily tainted by corruption charges in Russia and abroad (see the Monitor, January 11, 28). Russia’s new president, Vladimir Putin, recently transferred Borodin to the post of state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union; the holder of that post is the managing head of the Union’s joint government. Even the Belarusan president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and other top officials in Minsk were aghast and attempted to resist the appointment of a figure like Borodin to a top Union post; but they were quickly forced to cave in to Putin (see the Monitor, January 17; Itar-Tass, January 27-28).

Borodin, for his part, seems set to switch from the role of property tsar to that of political empire builder. In his first policy statement as state secretary, Borodin declared that the Russia-Belarus Union represents a first stage in a far larger project: “The various states which emerged in the former Soviet space are fated to live together. As Europe integrates, we shall integrate as well and live together in a tight Union, not a Soviet union, but a Union all the same.” The Swiss authorities’ criminal investigation against him, Borodin added, is “nothing but a political provocation aimed against the Russia-Belarus Union” (Itar-Tass, January 28).

While at least three Russian cities–Moscow, St. Petersburg and Smolensk–are vying for the privilege of hosting the political institutions of the Russia-Belarus Union, its military institutionalization is advancing faster, reflecting Moscow’s order of priorities. Lukashenka and Major-General Yuri Partnov, head of the Belarusan Defense Ministry’s policy planning staff, discussed the military dimension of the Russia-Belarus Union in a series of statements in recent days. According to them, the command staff of the planned Russian-Belarusan “regional group of forces” will be in place during the course of this year; units to be assigned to that group will total “in excess of 100,000 troops”; some of the ex-Soviet bases and military installations in Belarus are currently being selected for use by Russian units as part of the regional group of forces; the regional group will have first claim to allocation of modern equipment; an operational group of Russia’s border troops is working in Minsk; and a Belarusan liaison group is due to be set up in Moscow.

On February 5, Lukashenka announced that Russia’s revised military doctrine–which envisions first use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack on “Russia’s allies”–covers Belarus as well. He implied that the presidents of Russia and Belarus had recently agreed on such a guarantee. If so, it would mean that Belarus is being placed under the nuclear umbrella of Russia’s medium-range missiles.

The Russian government, meanwhile, is eyeing some of the premier military plants in Belarus for incorporation into Russia’s concern Oboronitelnye Systemy [Defense Systems]. Under a draft agreement, signed on the Russian side by Putin in his capacity as prime minister, Russia would take over those Belarusan factories which produce military electronics and optical equipment, components for surface-to-air missiles and multi-axial truck platforms for land-based strategic missiles. Lukashenka–if his past conduct is any guide–will probably try either to resist an outright takeover or to demand compensation in the form of indirect subsidies in the civilian economy. Belarus seeks such Russian subsidies in the form of price discounts on Russian fuel deliveries and financial credits to support the Belarusan currency. Moscow thus far withholds those credits, but has yielded on the gas price. As of January 1, Gazprom cut the price of gas sold to Belarus from US$30 to US$27 per 1,000 cubic meters. Ukraine and Moldova, by contrast, are being charged more than US$60. That special price for Belarus represents a political favor to Moscow’s ally. But Lukashenka considers that favor a half-measure and asks that Belarus be charged Russian internal prices for the gas (Vedomosti, February 1; Narodnaya Gazeta (Minsk), February 2; Kommersant daily, February 3; Minsk Radio, Itar-Tass, Belapan, February 1, 2, 4, 6; see the Monitor, December 9-10, 1999, January 17, 24).