The treaty on “creating a union state” of Russia and Belarus, signed on December 8 by Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see the Monitor, December 8-10), is–in principle and in intent–not limited to those two countries. The document is so phrased as to permit the accession of additional countries without the need of substantial changes to its text. It includes an enlargement clause which declares the union open for other countries to join, as long as they share the original signatories’ goals (Itar-Tass, December 8); such a vague condition seems designed to set the admission barrier at the lowest possible level.
Russian politicians across the political spectrum–and from the bicameral parliament’s speakers Gennady Seleznev and Yevgeny Stroev on down–are fueling their own and the public’s expectations that certain CIS countries might be willing to accede to the Russia-Belarus union in the near future. Armenia and Kazakhstan lead the Russian politicians’ list of putative candidate countries (Itar-Tass, December 8-13). Russia’s current electoral campaign is a contributory, but not a primary cause of such speculations. They are a constant feature in the Russian establishment’s discussions on the prospects of the CIS, irrespective of electoral cycles.
President Petru Lucinschi’s reaction is being distorted by his perceived need for Communist Party support in governing the country and securing his own reelection. Lucinschi has virtually welcomed the Russia-Belarus union on the grounds that it would lend impetus to economic cooperation and trade among CIS countries. Such a nonsequitur only reflects Lucinschi’s effort to sound half-way positive about the signing of the treaty in Moscow, short of committing Moldova to anything. The Moldovan Communists for their part assert that Belarus is a promising economic partner for Moldova and that the Russia-Belarus union can result in enlarging the market for Moldova’s agricultural products. That the party selected to lead the incoming government should cherish such hopes illustrates the depth of Moldova’s economic and political crisis, of which no end is in sight (Flux, Basapress, December 8-11; see the Monitor, November 10, December 3).
Russian political and military pressure on Georgia in connection with the North Caucasus war (see the Monitor, October 21, November 12, December 2, 13; Fortnight in Review, October 22, November 19) requires Tbilisi to exercise maximum caution in commenting on the Russia-Belarus union. President Eduard Shevardnadze, while ruling out any chance of Georgia’s joining it–or “any state formation in the CIS”–underscored at the same time that any third-party judgment on the Russia-Belarus union would be “out of place.” Georgian officials continue carefully hewing to this line. Meanwhile Georgia is redoubling efforts to expand its own relations with the West and to attract international organizations’ attention to the region’s problems. Shevardnadze hailed the European Union’s December 11 decision to consider Turkey’s candidacy for membership; that decision opens the prospect for Georgia to become a neighbor of the European Union, the president observed.
The newly elected parliament’s foreign affairs committee chairwoman, Nino Burjanadze, has given vent to Tbilisi’s apprehension that Russia will attempt to draw additional countries into the Russia-Belarus union. United Communist Party leader Panteleimon Giorgadze–whose son, the former state security chief and accused terrorist Igor Giorgadze, is being sheltered in Russia–predicted the enlargement of the Russia-Belarus union with optimistic anticipation (Georgian Television, Prime-News, December 6, 8, 12-13).
Officials in Baku are reacting in the same guarded manner as those in Tbilisi and for similar reasons. Azerbaijan’s recently appointed Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev has described Moscow’s and Minsk’s decision as an internal affair of the two countries, consistent with the sovereign right of any country to join pacts and unions in accordance with its national interests (AzadInform, December 8-9). That argument can serve Baku well in rebutting Moscow’s objections to the expansion of Azerbaijan’s relations with the United States, Turkey and Western Europe.
Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian’s visit to Moscow last week–very nearly coinciding with the signing of the Russia-Belarus treaty–prompted many in Moscow to comment that Armenia’s military relationship with Russia is far more developed than Russia-Belarus military relations. Sarkisian and other Armenian leaders, while pleased to subscribe to those remarks, stopped short of any expression of interest in the Russia-Belarus union. Moreover, they gently brushed aside the Russian Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev’s claim that the late Armenian Parliament Chairman Karen Demirchian had, just before the October 27 massacre, promised to initiate a parliamentary procedure for Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union.
The Armenian government takes the position–as Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian reaffirmed on December 13–that Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union is “not on the political agenda.” President Robert Kocharian has adhered to that position since his election in 1998, as had his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian. Only the Armenian Communist Party and allied leftist groups promote that idea. They claim to have gathered more than one million signatures on an appeal to the government to join with Russia and Belarus in a union of states. That claim–never verified and almost certainly exaggerated–forms the basis for the Russian leftist and nationalist parties’ claim that Armenia is ready to join the union (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika Armeniya, December 8-13).
UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS AT CROSSROADS.