Washington, 27 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has urged the Russian parliament to allow political interests to prevail over economic ones as Moscow seeks to promote closer integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
But the increasing tensions between political imperatives on the one hand and economic ones on the other suggest that neither Russia nor its neighbors will be willing to pay the price for further integration any time soon.
Speaking to a closed session of the Russian Federation Council last Wednesday, Primakov urged that the Russian government seek to expand its ties with Belarus in order to create a model for developing links to other former Soviet republics.
"The Foreign Ministry," he said, "wants closer integration with CIS member nations, starting with Belarus."
But Primakov immediately ran into the same obstacle that stymied Russian President Boris Yeltsin's earlier efforts to unite Russia and Belarus.
Following Primakov's presentation, the senators pointedly asked him just how much such reintegration of Belarus would cost, a clear indication that they and their Russian constituents are not prepared to pay a very high price.
Their query forced Primakov to plead that "long-term strategic interests should prevail over economic ones on this issue," the same argument the Russian Duma rejected three years ago when Primakov's predecessor Andrey Kozyrev made it.
But it is not only Russia that is unwilling to pay the price of further integration. Even the Belarusians, supposedly the nation most interested in such a prospect, don't appear all that interested in doing so.
Speaking on Minsk radio last Wednesday, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka laid out what he said were the three principles that had to be observed in any Belarusian union with Russia.
First, he said Belarus must maintain its sovereignty and its independent status as an actor in international affairs. "We will never agree to become a district or a province," the Belarusian president said. "We want equal cooperation."
Second, the Belarusian president indicated that no Belarusian citizen would ever be sent to fight on foreign soil or in the hotspots of the CIS.
And third, Lukashenka said that any "union" with Russia would have to be "mutually beneficial" to the two countries.
President Lukashenka suggested that these were three prerequisites for union with Russia. In fact, they are three obstacles to just such a union.
Lukashenka is clearly stating that neither he nor the Belarusians are prepared to give up their state independence. If they don't do that, then what could union with Russia possibly mean? That is not a question that he or anyone else has answered.
That this question remains open even now casts doubt on the easy assumptions of many that Lukashenka actually wants a true political union.
Even more, his insistence that the union be "mutually beneficial" undoubtedly means that Minsk will not agree to closer ties unless Moscow makes those ties profitable for the Belarusian leader and his people, something the Russian parliament seems unlikely to do.
Consequently, despite all the talk about closer integration among CIS countries, no one seems willing to pay the price necessary to make it happen.
The Russian government is not prepared to pay the economic price to achieve its political goals. And the non-Russian governments are not prepared to pay the political price without such a Russian payment.
In the short term, at least, this pattern makes it unlikely that Moscow and Minsk will be able to move toward union. In the longer term, it makes it certain that all the countries involved will seek to defend their national interests rather than giving them up for nothing in return.