Staunton, September 28 – At the end of Soviet times, Moscow encouraged contacts between the heads of republics and oblasts inside the Russian Federation with the leaders of federal units in neighboring countries of the socialist bloc as a way of promoting their integration.
Now, with relatively little fanfare, Moscow is using the same technique in its evolving relationship with Belarus, with only one difference, the heads of Russian regions are dealing more frequently with the head of Belarus as a whole than their predecessors did in Soviet times, even as they continue to expand cross-border region to region links.
Aleksey Mazur, the head of the analytic department of the Taiga news agency, calls attention to this development in an article entitled “The Byzantine Traditions of Russian Politics” in the course of which he suggests Russian governors are “suitable figures” for promoting the integration of Belarus and Russia (tayga.info/159866).
In September, Alyaksandr Lukashenka received two Russian governors from Siberia, Igor Kobzev of Irkutsk and Aleksandr Burkov of Omsk, even though in the preceding 12 months, the Belarusian leader had received only one Russian governor, including from oblasts closer to his own borders.
These visits have passed under the radar screen of the Moscow media, but they have received extensive and upbeat coverage in the regional media the governors control. For examples in these two cases, see glagol38.ru/text/25-09-2020/017 for Kobzev’s visits and 12-kanal.ru/news/72741/ for Burkov’s.
According to Mazur, “the growing activity of ‘the interregional ties’ of Russia and Belarus may be a kind of ‘compensation’ for the loss of international links” on Belarus’ part and a desire by Moscow to promote connections without attracting the notice that the dispatch of senior Moscow officials to Minsk would.
The appearance of governors from Siberia may also reflect the fact that the current Russian ambassador in Minsk, Dmitry Mezentsev, was once governor of Irkutsk. And because of his experience and as a result of the Soviet-era precedent, there is likely to be an increasing flow of such Russian officials to Belarus in the coming months.