Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 128

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev said today that a treaty creating a union between Belarus and Russia could be signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by this fall. Seleznev made his comments during a visit to Minsk, where he is participating in the 12th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia. Seleznev said he did not exclude the possibility that a referendum would be held on the union of the two states following the signing of the treaty. The Russian Duma speaker also said that the draft treaty under consideration still does not include the post of union president, but simply the post of chairman of the proposed union’s higher council. Seleznev also said that the end of the war in the Balkans had increased the chances that Yugoslavia could join the Russia-Belarus union.

Despite Seleznev’s relative optimism on the chances that a union treaty will be signed, other indicators suggest that the effort may be falling apart due to disagreements between the two sides. Boris Yeltsin has reportedly rejected a full-blown union with Belarus even though it might provide him with the means of extending his power after his term as Russian president ends next year. Many factors may have gone into his rejection of the idea, including fear that it would give Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a way of entering Russian politics, fear of the West’s reaction to such a union and simply lack of readiness to tackle the complicated economic problems a union would present (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 2). But another newspaper led today’s edition with an article suggesting that while Yeltsin had in March rejected a union plan presented by Lukashenka, which would have put the states on an equal footing and created the post of union president, Yeltsin might still be tempted by this, as a way to stay in power (Izvestia, July 2). Another suggestion is that Yeltsin was pushing for a union plan which would make Belarus little more than a region–or several regions–of Russia (see the Monitor, July 1).

While it is impossible to ascertain from these accounts the exact state of play in the negotiations over a Russia-Belarus union, it should be noted, first, that all three reporting newspapers are to one degree or another connected to the Kremlin, and, second, that the level of media speculation over the union issue is noticeably increasing. This suggests that the idea is also getting a lot of attention inside the Kremlin.