Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 43

The hegemonial aspirations unveiled by Russia’s acting head of state Vladimir Putin seem to have energized Red and pro-Russian groups in several Central Asian countries to advocate the accession of their countries to the Russia-Belarus Union. The base for this trend is primarily political, arising from local communist parties and Russian diaspora communities.

In Armenia, however, the trend is no longer confined to the Communist Party and leftist-ultranationalist groups, but also feeds on distorted perceptions of its national history. Last week, a multiparty initiative group–the “Russia-Belarus-Armenia Union”–was established in the Armenian parliament, made up of twenty-three deputies, including four Communists, four independents and three each from the governing Republican Party, the co-governing People’s Party, the Republicans’ satellite known as the Stability parliamentary group, and the Right and Accord party which belongs to Karabakh’s General Samvel Babaian (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenpress, February 7-8, 22-23). The Communist Party, which has just reentered the Armenian government for the first time since 1990, is programatically committed to pulling the country into the Russia-Belarus Union and makes the unverified and probably exaggerated claim of having assembled more than a million signatures on a petition to that effect. Some of the holders of real power in Yerevan recently took steps toward setting up a military alliance of Armenia and Belarus, as an accompaniment to the Armenian-Russian military alliance. The embattled president, Robert Kocharian, opposes this trend but is taking care to avoid an exacerbation of the conflict with his political rivals. His cautiously stated position is that the issue of Armenia joining the Russia-Belarus Union is “not on the agenda at present” (Armenian Television, Armenpress, February 8-9; see the Monitor, January 20, February 14).

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the communist parties included the goal of joining the Russia-Belarus Union in their respective programs for the parliamentary elections being held this month. The Communist slates of candidates won first place in Kyrgyzstan and second in Tajikistan (Itar-Tass, KyrgyzKabar, Asia-Plus, February 21-29; see Monitor, February 17, 28). Tajik President Imomali Rahmonov initially espoused the goal, but then muted it after Moscow indicated that a basket-case country is not welcome in the union.

In Kazakhstan, an opposition alliance of Soviet-nostalgic and Russian nationalist groups campaigns for holding a referendum on the subject of Kazakhstan joining the Russia-Belarus Union. These groups include the Communist Party, the LAD Slavic movement, the Union of Russian, Slavic and Cossack Associations and others, some of these being allied with the People’s Republican Party of the expatriate former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. These groups–who recently sponsored appeals to the presidents of Russia and Belarus–have just announced a signature-gathering initiative for a national referendum in Kazakhstan on joining that Union. President Nursultan Nazarbaev and law-enforcement authorities are using strong terms in trying to discourage such initiatives (Itar-Tass, Habar, January 20-21, February 7, 17-18, 28; see also Kazakhstan story in this issue).

This trend is nonexistent or negligible in the other CIS countries and has registered a significant setback in Ukraine, where the recent reelection of President Leonid Kuchma has taken the wind out of the sails of Ukraine’s Communist Party and other leftist groups espousing that goal.