Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 129

Over the weekend, the Russia-Belarus scenario appeared to be mired in disagreement. On Friday (July 2), Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka gave a speech in Minsk to a meeting of the parliamentary assembly of the Russia-Belarus union, in which he lashed out at Moscow, saying that Belarus had made a “big mistake” in waiting for Russia to make a decision to move toward integration. He also said that he had ordered his foreign ministry to establish “the kindest, closest” ties with Belarus’ neighbors, including Western countries. Working groups of the two states met in Moscow last week, Lukashenka said, at which time Russia had turned down his proposal that the union have a president (Russian agencies, Reuters, July 2). In a television interview which aired on July 3, Lukashenka blamed Russia’s political elite for sabotaging the integration process, and said that he was ready to cede part of his powers for the benefit of a union. He also reiterated that he is ready to run for a union presidency if such a post is created (ORT, July 3). The July 2 speech, Lukashenka said, was the last he would give on possible integration with Russia.

Yesterday, however, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin met with Yeltsin, after which he told reporters he had discussed the union treaty with Yeltsin and that all the documents on a union treaty will be ready in a month. He quoted Yeltsin as saying that if Lukashenka agrees to the treaty, “we will gradually move the issue forward. Let’s see what we arrive at.” Stepashin said that Yeltsin had tasked him with personally overseeing the issues involving a union with Belarus; later in the day, he reportedly discussed the issue by telephone with Lukashenka (Russian agencies, July 5). Meanwhile, also yesterday, Belarusan Foreign Minister Ural Latypov said that Lukashenka’s critical remarks toward Russia “do not mean Minsk has changed its policy in relation to Russia,” that “Russia remains our main strategic partner” and that Lukashenka’s “determination to normalize relations with the West cannot be viewed as an alternative to cooperation with Russia” (Russian agencies, July 5).

It would appear that Lukashenka’s invective toward Moscow was simply a negotiating tactic. “Segodnya,” citing “information” from the Yeltsin’s administration, reported today that the Kremlin is ready to accept Minsk’s version of the union treaty–complete with a union presidency, which the Russian president would assume initially–and then worry later about who would succeed Yeltsin as union head. The paper said a union treaty would allow a “moratorium” on elections in Russia at all levels–presidential, legislative and regional. The paper also published a separate interview with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who claimed to have “reliable” information that unification with Belarus would be used to postpone elections in Russia (Segodnya, July 6).