Tuesday, February 19, 2019

If Belarus Becomes Part of Russian Federation, Status of Non-Russian Republics Could Increase

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Were Belarus to become part of the Russian Federation, it would likely have, at least for some extended period, a special status within that new country, something that could have an impact very different from what the Kremlin currently imagines, Aleksandr Razuvayev suggests.

            It could have the effect of leading to demands by at least some non-Russian republics for an increase in their status to match what Belarus might have; and that would have the effect of promoting a more federalist system than now and certainly one far less like the new homogenous empire that Vladimir Putin appears to want.

            In a commentary for Nezavisimaya gazeta, the economist and financial analyst says that Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s suggestion that the unification of Russia and Belarus could only be achieved by referendum has consequences far greater than might appear at first glance (ng.ru/blogs/razuvaev/tatarstan-mozhet-poluchit-osobyy-status-v-soyuze-kak-i-belorussiya.php).

            According to Razuvayev, “the times of authoritarian empires such as the USSR or Romanov Russia, for example, have passed. The prototype of the empire of the future apparently is the European Union. Ideally, it has a single currency and a common foreign and defense policy with the preservation of the statehood of the subjects included in the Union.”

            To the extent that Belarus acquires such status in a new Union state, he continues, other non-Russian (and potentially predominantly ethnic Russian) areas “will be able to aspire” to that enhanced status.  Each of them could become issuers of currency and collectors of taxes, something that would change the Russian state fundamentally. 

            Such a model would be controversial and opposed by many in Moscow; but, the economist says, it is probable that “this is the best choice for the integration of the entire post-Soviet space.” In short, if Moscow wants to expand its influence over the former union republics, it is going to have to concede more powers to the federal subjects within its current borders.

            Under such an approach, Razuvayev continues, “the Russian Federation would be able to offer its partners a unique product – security and sovereignty. Russia is the only country which has military parity with the US and NATO;” and the West views Russia and the other post-Soviet states primarily as a source of raw materials and cheap labor.

            Changing the relations of the post-Soviet states with each other could set the stage for changing the latter; but such changes will almost certainly require changing the way Moscow deals with its federal units, Tatarstan in the first instance but other non-Russian and even Rusian ones as well.   

            If Moscow refused to give Belarus and these federal subjects greater status, it would not only make it even less likely that Belarus would agree to join  the Russian Federation but it would make it almost impossible for Moscow to hope to integrate the former Soviet space under its leadership and thus make the achievement of one of Putin's most passionately held goals highly unlikely.

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