Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 6

Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s plenipotentiary representative to CIS countries, Ivan Rybkin, has all but nominated Yeltsin for the post of president of the Russia-Belarus Union. “Yeltsin’s candidacy to that post is a real prospect. We simply cannot find a substitute for the experience of a man like [him],” Rybkin told Moscow media, commenting on Yeltsin’s and Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s recent declaration, which entails the formation of such a union in practice. Rybkin’s suggestion reinforces conjectures that institutionalization of that union in 1999 might enable Yeltsin to retain presidential status beyond Russia’s presidential election, which is scheduled for 2000 and in which Yeltsin may not run (Russian agencies as cited by Reuters, January 8).

Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who until recently played a major role in shaping Russia’s policy toward Belarus, suggested yesterday a different procedure for creating a “single state.” Nemtsov proposed incorporating Belarus outright as a subject of the Russian Federation, on a par with Russia’s internal republics. That procedure, he said, would obviate the need for a presidency of the Russia-Belarus Union. He warned that Yeltsin would face serious problems in a contest for that presidency, whether by popular vote or in the Russia-Belarus Parliamentary Assembly. In either case, the Russian communist vote and the Belarusan vote could combine and prevail.

That view is consistent with Nemtsov’s position–and that of his ally, former Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais–while he was in government. But in a striking departure from his known position, Nemtsov suggested yesterday that Russia could well afford the cost of the economic incorporation of Belarus. Revealing that the Russian government had last year estimated that cost at US$100 million per month, the reputed liberal reformer Nemtsov termed it well worth Russia’s gain: “We would obtain a direct geopolitical and military access to the West” (Ekho Moskvy, January 10).