With full pomp and ceremony, Presidents Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin signed the third of a probable four treaties linking Belarus ever more closely to Russia. Treaties in 1996 and 1997 established the Russia-Belarus community and the Russia-Belarus Union. Last week’s pact is described as “a further stage” of unification. Ratification is likely to move quickly and with little public dissent.
Under the treaty, the Union will have trappings: a flag, an anthem and a coat of arms. It will have binational institutions in three branches: a Higher State Council and a Council of Ministers, a parliament and a supreme court. But it will not have powers. Both states keep their “independence and sovereignty,” their constitutions and their currencies. And it will not have interpreters. The only official language is Russian.
The treaty and related “action program” stipulate a five-year process of political and economic unification. Military integration, however, is on a much faster track. The two sides agreed to establish over the next two years a common military doctrine, a common procurement plan, a joint force and bases in Belarus to bring Russian troops once again to the Polish border.
Legislation in effect since independence makes Belarus neutral and prohibits the stationing of foreign troops on Belarusan soil. These laws have now been swept away. But Lukashenka may delay military integration unless Russia meets his demands for trade concessions, debt forgiveness and energy subsidies. If Russia wants to scratch the itch of Soviet nostalgia and pan-Slav glory, it will have to pay.