Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 133

Despite such objections, the merger plan appears to be moving inexorably forward. One issue which remains unsolved is who will head the Russia-Belarus union. Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been pushing for a “leader’s” post, which would not necessarily be called a presidency but would carry out “supra-national power functions” (Russian agencies, July 9). In April, Lukashenka suggested that Yeltsin should initially serve as president, while, he, Lukashenka, would become vice president. Russian government officials have said that the union plan which Moscow is supporting envisions only a Higher Council made up of the presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary heads of both countries–but not a presidency. Leonid Drachevsky, Russia’s minister for CIS affairs, said that Yeltsin cannot and will not be president of a Russia-Belarus union (Russian agencies, July 9).

On the other hand, few observers doubt that the Kremlin is looking at the prospective Russia-Belarus union as a way to de facto keep Yeltsin in power–or, at any rate, maintain the political status quo. Thus, according to an unnamed government official quoted in the weekly magazine “Profil,” there will indeed be a union presidency and vice presidency, or their functional equivalents. Authority over Russia’s “power structures”–meaning the armed forces, security forces and so on–will be transferred from the Russian presidency to this union leadership. At the same time, the parliaments of Belarus and Russia will be merged into a joint parliament, without new elections. This will be a “bone” to the opposition-dominated Russian Duma, which would otherwise be far from happy about giving Yeltsin a de facto third term. Meanwhile, both the unnamed government official and an unnamed official in the Kremlin administration said that Lukashenka will fill in as union head if Yeltsin is ill or otherwise unable to fulfill his functions.

If this scenario is accurate, then all the major players in both countries–the parliaments, and Yeltsin and Lukashenka–will get a payoff. As the anonymous government source said: “The interest of the Russian side, or more precisely, the presidential administration, toward integration is very amusing. Several months ago I was directly told in the presidential administration that, for them, the interests of the country are side interests–the main thing is to survive” (Profil, July 12).