Russia and Belarus Reportedly Considering Economic and Political Union

By Dimitri Simes | December 2, 2019 | 8:37pm EST
President Vladimir Putin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. (Photo: TASS/The Kremlin)
President Vladimir Putin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. (Photo: TASS/The Kremlin)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Reports claiming that Russia and Belarus have agreed to form a union state with a common parliament and government are making waves, reviving talk of a “superstate” that has emerged at times over the past two decades – but never materialized.

The claims, by Belarusian ambassador to Russia Vladimir Semashko, caused a stir, not least of all because the envisaged union state could potentially pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to remain in power after his fourth term expires in 2024.

In an interview on Friday, Semashko announced that Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had agreed to establish a union state between their two countries.

“The presidents agreed that the goals are ambitious and they should not change,” he said. “This is a transition to unified tax legislation, the creation of common oil, gas and electricity markets, the creation of a single parliament and government with certain powers, when independent Russia and Belarus give up certain managerial functions with mandatory execution.”

Semashko said the two presidents had already approved 20 of 31 proposed roadmaps for deeper integration.

However, both Belarus’ foreign ministry and its embassy in Moscow have been playing down the remarks.

Still, Moscow and Minsk are widely expected to sign a deal on closer integration before the end of the year.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will meet with his Belarusian counterpart Siarheij Rumas on December 6, and Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Lukashenko will meet later this month.

The two former Soviet states first signed a treaty to form a union state in 1999. Back then, they pledged to adopt a common currency, legal system, foreign policy, and to provide citizens from both countries with equal rights to work and social benefits.

As proposed at the time, the union would be governed by a supranational parliament, a council of ministers, and a supreme state council, headed by one of the countries’ presidents.

Most of those plans never materialized.

But over the past year Moscow has been attempting to revive the union state concept. Putin and Lukashenko agreed last December to set up an intergovernmental commission to develop an updated program for establishing such a state.

The influential Russian daily Kommersant was the first to publish a blueprint of an integration deal in mid-September, saying that Russia and Belarus intended to form an economic confederacy by 2022.

“The partial economic integration is on a level no less than in the European Union, and is similar to confederacy and even federal states on a number of issues,” Kommersant commented.

That blueprint did not, however, state whether economic unification would be followed by political integration.

Revived integration talk has fueled speculation in Russian media and expert circles that Putin could be pushing a union state as a way to stay in power after 2024.

Under the Russian constitution, the president can only serve two consecutive terms. Putin did so from 2000 to 2008, but then stood down in favor of his handpicked success, Medvedev. Putin then served as Medvedev’s prime minister, but in 2012 ran again for president and secured a third term. Putin won a fourth term in 2018. (Presidential terms changed from four to six years in 2012.)

But the creation of a Russo-Belarusian political union – should it ever happen – could provide a pathway for Putin to remain at the helm, by becoming head of a supranational body like the envisaged supreme state council.

Just last month, Lukashenko declared that he would not sign an integration agreement unless Russia addressed his country’s economic concerns.

“If our key problems concerning hydrocarbon supplies, access to the markets for our commodity, the removal of barriers, etc. are not resolved, no roadmaps can be signed,” Lukashenko said at the time.


 

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