Prague, April 3 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press
examine Russia's new treaty with Belarus with fascination and anxiety
and -- in some cases -- blame fixing.
Britain's The Independent editorializes today on the Belarus-Russia
pact: "Less than five years after the Soviet Union's collapse,
Russia is taking steps to bring as many former Soviet republics as
possible back under its wing.... Yesterday, Russia and Belarus went
even further... In an extraordinary and rather alarming remark last
Friday, Mr. Yeltsin suggested that Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania could sign the treaty uniting Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan
and Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps he had a memory lapse; the independence of
Eastern Europe is absolutely not up for discussion."
Miriam Neubert wrote yesterday in the Suddeutsche Zeitung:
"When Boris Yeltsin and Alexander Lukashenko walked down the
Kremlin's Holy Staircase with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox
Church between them, that was Yeltsin's well-nigh triumphant response
to the challenge posed by the communists in the Duma.... Three weeks
ago a majority of Duma deputies voted in favor of resurrecting the
USSR. Integration has come to rank alongside the war in Chechnya as
the most important issue in the Russian presidential election
campaign. But Yeltsin is not keen on integration at any price. Russia
itself has only just, with great difficulty, embarked on the road to
stabilization and cannot afford to take on an ailing economy in which
inflation and economic decline exceed its own.... Yeltsin may need
the new confederation as a political ploy in his presidential
election campaign, but economic realities show the two countries to
be poles apart."
A commentary in The Wall Street Journal Europe today by author John
Laughland contends that Russia's new 'imperialism' bases its
dogma on Europe's own economic unification ideology. Laughland
writes: "As the heads of state and government of the European Union
met in Turin last Friday to revise the treaty on European
integration, the heads of state of four former Soviet republics were
in Moscow to sign a treaty on 'economic and social integration.'
...European ideology is becoming a significant weapon in Russian
geopolitical strategy. The ideology allows the former Soviet
republics to regroup in the name of economic integration."
Writing from Minsk in the British newspaper Financial Times, Matthew
Kaminsky pursues an historic perspective: He says: "Three
times this century, Belarus turned into a killing field. Both wars
claimed millions of lives, and Stalin's purge claimed the small local
intelligentsia. From then on, Soviet orthodoxy took firm root. Today,
the scars run deep, exposing a fatalism and passivity in the country
of 10.7 million (people) that served to curb the national revival
which characterized the post-1991 era for its neighbors, all located
near the geographical center of Europe.... Belarus, unlike other
Eastern European nations, has never developed an independent
identity. And the current president and his supporters appear to
prefer it that way."
Chrystia Freeland writes today in the Financial Times: "Jesus
Christ and the ghost of the Soviet Union both were evoked at a lavish
ceremony yesterday when Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a
landmark union treaty with neighboring Belarus, which the Kremlin
leader hopes will boost his chances of reelection.... The signing...
could provoke fears in the West and independence-minded neighboring
countries such as Ukraine that Moscow intends to bebuild its old
empire. (The) patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church... was on hand
to bless the 'sacred cause.' ...Mr. Yeltsin's shift towards a more
openly expansionist policy could create a political dilemma for
Western leaders, who fear a resurgence of Russian imperialism, but
also hope that Mr. Yeltsin wins in June."
"In a staged display of Slavic brotherhood, the presidents of Russia
and Belarus signed a pact yesterday to bewilder the post-communist
world," David Hearst writes today from Moscow in Britain's The
Guardian. Hearst says: "They called their new alliance the
Community of Sovereign Republics -- the SSR, whose cyrillic acronym
is only one letter short of USSR. To a Russian ear, nostalgic for the
economic and political certainties of the past, the SSR sounded much
like business as usual. Only the word 'socialist' was missing."
Two reports appear today in the British newspaper The Independent,
Central Europe correspondent Adrian Bridge writes: "Thousands
of Bulgarians took to the streets of Sofia yesterday to protest
against recent moves by Russia to draw the country into a new
Moscow-led pact. The demonstrators denounced comments by the Russian
president... that a recent agreement... could be expanded to include
'other countries... perhaps, for example, Bulgaria.' "
From Moscow, Helen Womack says: "Thousands of Belarussians
cast off their national stereotype as passive people and took to the
streets of Minsk last night in defiance of their conservative
leader... Lukashenko, who had earlier signed a treaty... on
integration with Russia.... Because Belarus is in deeper economic
trouble than Russia, Mr. Lukashenko has been pressing for the closest
possible relationship. But Mr. Yeltsin has been more cautious, lest
Belarus become a burden."
Thomas de Waal writes today in The London Times: "Yeltsin and
Lukashenko... signed a treaty creating a Commonwealth of Sovereign
States between their two countries yesterday, in a move aimed at
outflanking the Russian Communist Party's plans to reinvent the
Soviet Union.... 'Before our eyes history is returning to its
sources,' the (Russian Orthodox) patriarch said, blessing the union
of 'two brother nations christened together.' However, such feelings
were not shared in Minsk yesterday by about 5,000 people who marched
through the Belorussian capital towards Mr. Lukashenko's offices to
protest the pact.... The deal is a triumph for Mr. Lukashenko, who...
has campaigned for integration with Russia. Belorussia is the most
russified of the former Soviet republics and the national language is
not widely spoken."