Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 125

The effort to create a unified Russia-Belarus state appears to be gaining increasing momentum, though it remains difficult to say whether those pushing it intend for it to be achieved in the near- or long-term future.

A meeting is scheduled to take place today in Moscow between Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko and Belarus First Deputy Prime Minister, Vassily Dogolev, both of whom are deputy chairman of the Belarus-Russia union’s Executive Committee. Aleksandr Spasai, press secretary of the Union Executive Committee, reported that the two men will continue the discussion Aksenenko had over the weekend with Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. This discussion involved a proposed treaty between the two countries on equal rights for citizens, a protocol for a bilateral agreement on creating equal conditions for economic subjects, measures for a gradual introduction of a unified currency and the formation of a single union center overseeing monetary policy. The two sides will also discuss how to mutually recognize and implement legal acts promulgated by arbitration and other courts, as well as areas of dispute, including violations of a bilateral 1992 transportation agreement.

Most of these issues will be taken up again at a meeting of the Belarus-Russia Union’s Executive Committee scheduled for July 7 (Russian agencies, June 28-29). Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia will hold its 12th session in Minsk on July 2. According to Georgy Tikhonov, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s CIS Affairs Committee, the session will be largely devoted to preparations for a Russia-Belarus union agreement. He also said that the war in Yugoslavia had raised interest in adding the Yugoslav Federation to the Russia-Belarus union.

While it is difficult to know for sure whether this stepped-up activity means that a Russia-Belarus union is imminent, there has been widespread speculation in the press that the Kremlin may use the union as a way to keep President Boris Yeltsin in power. One newspaper added a new twist to the scenario, predicting that the first step would be integration of the two armies. “Segodnya,” in its lead story, reported that Yeltsin, during a meeting yesterday with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, approved an initiative “on uniting the armed forces of Belarus and Russia on the basis of carrying training exercises.” The paper noted that there have already been joint training exercises, but they have not before been presidentially blessed, adding, “the unification of the two armies as a prologue to the geopolitical merging of Russia and Belarus is certainly a presidential task.” The article said the Kremlin is “hurrying to make use of its best chance to extend its political life,” and has information that the union will be consummated by this fall. It also noted that it is easier to unite the armies than the two countries’ economic systems, and that Yeltsin, as Russia’s commander in chief, would naturally assume the same post in a union (Segodnya, June 29).