Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Even Non-Russians Who Want Close Ties with Moscow Don’t Want to Be Absorbed into Russian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – A new poll that found Belarusians would choose a union with Russia over one with Europe does not mean that they want to have their country dissolved and absorbed into the Russian Federation, an attitude that defines not only Belarusian attitudes on this point but also those of others in the post-Soviet states as well.

            That distinction is often lost sight of in Moscow and by some in the West who fail to recognize that people who want to see their countries cooperate more closely with Russia are not saying that they want to give up their independent statehood and be absorbed into some new Russian imperial project.

            But if such statements are misread, that by itself can lead to miscalculations both in the Russian capital and in Western ones. In the former, statements about a desire for cooperation can cause Moscow to assume it has a basis for reabsorbing these countries; and in the latter, they can lead Western analysts and governments to conclude Moscow is justified in doing so.

            In fact, the expression in the non-Russian countries which emerged or re-emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union of a desire to cooperate with the Russian Federation on a mutually beneficial way should be viewed as the final stage of imperial dissolution rather than as evidence of exactly the reverse.

            According to a poll conducted by independent Minsk sociologist Andrey Vardomatsky, 64.9 percent of Belarusians say they seek to be in a union with Russia while only 19.1 percent say they want to be in one with the Europeans, thus continuing a pattern which has been in place since 2004 (

            Vardamatsky says there are four main reasons for this pattern: the low level of trust in Belarusian media of all kinds, Belarus’ economic dependency on Russia, the crisis which is currently affecting the EU, and the absence of clear signals from Brussels that the EU would like to take Belarus in.

            But when Belarusians say they prefer a union with Russia, they are not saying they want their country to be absorbed by Moscow into a common one. If they are asked whether they would like to have Belarus become part of Russia, only five to seven percent say that they would prefer that outcome.

            In short, they are making a rational calculation about where their interests and those of their country lie rather than being animated by any nostalgia for the Soviet Union as some in Moscow and the West are often inclined to think.

            This pattern is hardly unique to Belarus among the post-Soviet states. Andrey Suzdaltsev of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics says it is widespread. The peoples of these countries want “mutually profitable cooperation,” he says; they aren’t moved anymore by abstract ideas like friendship of the peoples and a glorious future” (

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