Russia will not annex Belarus. In spite of widespread fears in Western mainstream media, the Kremlin will not incorporate its neighbor as it did with Crimea five years ago. The two countries will officially remain close allies, but in reality Minsk will keep distancing itself from Moscow.
However, does not mean Belarus will seek to join the European Union. As long as President Alexander Lukashenko is in power, Minsk will keep balancing between Russia and the West. Even though Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who are scheduled to meet in Sochi, might sign another agreement on deepen integration of the Russia Belarus Union State, the actual realization of such plans will hardly be possible. Over the past twenty years, the two leaders signed several agreements, but the Union State still exists only on paper. Moscow, on the one hand, is not willing to provide Belarus veto power on all decisions supranational institutions would make, while Minsk, on the other hand, does not intend to give up its sovereignty.
“That will never happen while I’m in charge. It’s our country. We are sovereign and independent,” recently said Lukashenko, pointing out that the two neighbors were not discussing a unified parliament or other political questions.
The Kremlin insists on deepening integration that should include not only a unified parliament, but also a common government, customs, currency, judicial and tax systems. According to documents that the two counties signed in the past, Russia and Belarus would both have veto power as the main principle for the Union State would be equality. Since Russia is 82 times larger than Belarus, and has far greater economic and military strength than its neighbor, equality between the two counties would be practically impossible. That is one of the main reasons why the Russia Belarus Union State never managed to increase its efficiency.
The idea of the Union State of Russia and Belarus has been discussed since the 1990s, and Lukashenko himself proposed it to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In 1997 an agreement on the Union of Belarus and Russia was signed, and in 1999 sides signed a document on the creation of a Union State. These agreements provided for the creation of a federal-type state entity with a common parliament, government, judicial and tax systems, a common currency and a common political, economic, military, customs, currency, legal, humanitarian and cultural space. However, twenty years later, the idea of creating a union state remains on paper, with the exception of the emergence of several supranational bodies and the media.
Although some analysts believe the Kremlin might eventually force Minsk to give up its sovereignty, it is extremely unlikely that Russia will take any radical measures against Minsk. Since Belarus is not expected to agree on Russian conditions, Moscow might increase gas and oil prices for Minsk in an attempt to get certain concessions from Lukashenko. It could also impose taxes on some Belarusian products, or simply stop supporting Belarusian economy.
In the long term, Russia might lose Belarus as a close ally. In this scenario Russia will save a significant amount of money as reportedly Moscow is supporting the Belarusian economy with $4 billion annually. Since Lukashenko is not showing any desire to turn to the West, the Kremlin does not have to fear another Ukraine on the Russian border. In addition, the European Union is not signalizing that it is interested in any form of integration with Belarus. Western media has been portraying Lukashenko as “the last European dictator” since he has been in power for the past 25 years. On the other hand, Montenegro’s Milo Djukanovic, has been running the small Balkans country, be it as a President or as a Prime Minister, for almost 30 years. Still, Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 and is actively negotiating EU membership.
Russia is presently treating Belarus as a reliable gas transit country, as well as a regular buyer of Russian natural gas and oil. Since Belarus does not have significant natural resources, it is very unlikely that the Kremlin will try to destabilize the country or create proxy “people’s republics”as it did in the Donbass.
Some political circles in the Kremlin openly speak out against current Russian policy regarding Belarus, as they claim Russia is wasting money buying Lukashenko’s loyalty. Instead, they suggest either completely letting Belarus go, or to help creating pro-Russia political forces in the country. Even though Moscow already started implementing the latter option by funding Russia-friendly media in Belarus, it would be extremely difficult for Russia to organize a powerful pro-Russia party that would eventually dominate Belarusian political life. Since Alexander Lukashenko is an authoritarian leader, he would probably brutally suppress any such threat.
In the short term, Russia will likely keep Belarus in its geopolitical orbit, but since the integration plans will not bring any results, Minsk could face economic pressure from Moscow. In spite of potential financial hardships, Lukashenko is not expected to share his power with the Kremlin.
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