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
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
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.