Accessibility links

Analysis From Washington -- Moscow-Minsk Accord Splits CIS

  • Paul Goble

Washington, April 3 (RFE/RL) -- The pact between Russia and Belarus signed in Moscow Tuesday will not unite those two countries but instead will further divide the other former Soviet republics.

Despite the election-season hoopla surrounding its signing -- including its blessing by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksiy II -- the treaty between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka does not represent the rebirth of the U.S.S.R. or even the unification of the two countries whose presidents signed it.

The treaty itself establishes a two-year transition period during which Russia and Belarus will continue to function much as they do now. Moreover, even at the end of that time, the treaty specifies that the two countries will remain "sovereign" and "independent."

And the extremely brief accord fails to answer many of the difficult questions -- who will pay the costs of integration and how will policies be coordinated -- that have been the rocks on which Yeltsin's previous efforts to promote CIS integration have foundered.

But the accord will have three important consequences, albeit not ones that Yeltsin intended.

First, precisely because the agreement is so obviously designed as a campaign ploy for the reelection of the Russian President, it is already being dismissed by its intended audience, the Russian voters.

As Russian parliamentarian Vladimir Lukin elegantly put it, "generally integration is good, but integration during an election campaign is different. After the election there may be nothing to integrate."

Second, the very act of signing this accord is helping to generate a revival of the Belarusian national movement.

While Belarusian national sentiments have been relatively weak in the past, Lukashenka's efforts to end his country's independence are continuing to spark demonstrations and denunciations in Minsk. Indeed, one of the most ironic consequences of the Yeltsin-Lukashenka unity deal might be a much more intensified sense of nationhood among the Belarusian people and its distinctiveness relative to the Russians.

But it is the third consequence of this hasty deal that is likely to be the most significant. Instead of attracting other former Soviet republics to join the Russian-Belarusian-sponsored Community of Sovereign Republics, the new accord is having precisely the opposite effect. This negative result has taken two forms.

On the one hand, it has led some of the other former Soviet republics to seek greater agreement with Moscow but to do so in a way that ties Moscow's hands rather than frees them. Last Friday, for example, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan signed a detailed new accord on economic integration.

Yeltsin has implied that this accord too is a way station on the road to tighter reintegration, but other participants -- including Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev -- have given a different reading. In remarks earlier this week, Nazarbayev suggested that this accord would establish rules of the game among independent states, not rules that would eliminate them.

And on the other, ever more former Soviet republics are making it clear that they are repelled, not attracted by the Belarusian variant. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told the Ukrainian parliament Tuesday that Kyiv was "firmly against" any efforts to revive the old Soviet Union and that hasty efforts to promote closer ties "can only harm normal integration processes."

Equally significant, on the very same day Ukraine signed a defense cooperation agreement with the Czech republic, hardly the act of a country looking back to the past. And Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov has just made an important visit to the Pacific rim countries.

In short, Boris Yeltsin may soon learn that haste makes waste and that his latest electoral ploy won't impress the Russian electorate, lead to union with Belarus, or attract anyone else.