Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 15

Meeting in “extraordinary session” in Minsk yesterday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union failed in both its stated purposes: first, to pass the “Union” budget for 1999; and second, to adopt “priority measures” for implementing Presidents Boris Yeltsin’s and Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s December 25, 1998 declaration of intent to unify the two countries in 1999.

The budget is supposed to finance joint projects approved by the Union’s Executive Committee (top-level intergovernmental body). Russia is to contribute 65 percent of that budget, and Belarus 35 percent. This is an onerous ratio for Belarus, considering the ratio of its population to that of Russia, not to mention the disproportion in terms of national resources. Adopting the 1999 Union budget was postponed until sometime “in the spring” because both of these crisis-plagued countries have yet to adopt their national budgets. The session also had to register the failure of the Union’s 1998 budget, for which Russia met only 27 percent of its obligations, while Belarus met 90 percent.

Even as the Assembly met, some 500 Belarusan trucks carrying merchandise to Russia were blocked at the border because cash-hungry Russia has just introduced a US$250 border-crossing charge per truck. The measure violates the bilateral agreements to remove customs barriers between Russia and Belarus; and it has been met with indignation by official Minsk.

This record of failure would seem to puncture the claim which reputed liberal Boris Nemtsov recently made, that Russia’s state budget is capable of financing the outright absorption of Belarus into Russia. Nemtsov’s project of annexing Belarus to the Russian Federation, announced on behalf of Russia’s top liberals on the eve of the Minsk meeting (see the Monitor, January 21), was tersely and predictably rejected by Lukashenka in his address to the parliamentary assembly. Lukashenka, as usual, called for an economic union of two politically sovereign states.

This time, however, the Belarusan president added an unusually heavy emphasis on military unification with Russia. He decried recent Western actions in Serbia, Iraq and elsewhere, and, more generally, the “single-polar international order” led by a “hegemonist” United States in the post-Soviet world (the standard language in Moscow foreign-policy circles). Lukashenka urged forming a military bloc to forestall NATO’s planned enlargement in Central Europe in the short term, and to oppose the West globally in a follow-up stage. He described the Russia-Belarus Union as the “nucleus” from which a larger “Slavic” and CIS-wide economic-political-military bloc could gradually develop.

Lukashenka urged Russia, in the common interest, to finance the Belarusan army and military industry to the tune of US$1 billion annually. The Belarusan forces only make sense as part of a whole with Russian forces, Lukashenka said, and can function defensively or offensively only in that combination. He described the creation of a common defense space of Russia and Belarus as a priority task of their Union. The would-be Union’s military potential was stressed even more aggressively by Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, who attended Russia-Belarus Parliamentary Assembly for the second consecutive time (Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, Russian Television, January 21).