The ghost of the Union State between Russia and Belarus is still wandering in the halls of Kremlin although it no longer impresses Russian authorities as something feasible. The idea of gradual incorporation of Belarus into Russia attractive for Russian authorities through the project of the Union State initiated in 1999, lost its sense in this respect in 21st century, for Belarusian Government would not allow the loss of state sovereignty. Thus the Union State appeared to be in the end “strategical misunderstanding” between Belarus and Russia. Referring to the fact that winding up the Union State would damage Russia and Belarus’ political image on international arena, the project has acquired symbolical weight and has been artificially sustained by joint mass media propaganda and official meetings of the representative bodies of the states.
The agenda of the Union State parliamentary meetings concerns intergovernmental programmes and projects in such spheres as agriculture, technology, pharmacy, education and security issues. In spite of the fact that in the state media the Union State really exists and functions successfully, officials can’t but mention several shortcomings in the Union State and its institutions. For instance, many of them are concerned with the budget of the Union State, which is formed every month from the national budgets of the countries.
The Union State secretary Pavel Borodin spoke that very often the huge part of the budget was not realized for a long time. The Head of the Russian Audit Chamber S. Stepashin said that just 3 from 8 Union State programmes had been realized and that there were too many firms – mediators, that it was almost impossible to trace where the money go. In 2008 the chairman of the State Control Committee of the Republic of Belarus Z. Lomat also made remark about low realization of the Union Sate budget (1)(2)(3).
Also there are many differences in the legal systems of the countries. In 2011, for instance, the deputy of the chairman of the Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly on security, defense and crime fighting A. Rozuvan concluded during the meeting that the creation of the single Criminal Code of Belarus and Russia is not reasonable, for there were different practices on criminal matters in Russia and Belarus(4)…
Generally speaking one can’t but admit that the Union State doesn’t have essential elements of a state. We see just two politically independent countries with their own government, legal system and legal practices, national currency and territory. Russian Federation is managed democracy, the Republic of Belarus is an authoritarian country; in RF they have one state language, in RB there are two state languages. Taxes in Russia and Belarus are levied by different bodies and directed accordingly for the needs of the citizens of different countries in question.
What can be referred to as a background of the Union State between Belarus and Russia is reference to the common historical past, non-visa regime, military cooperation, legal equality of Belarusian and Russian citizens as far as social security, medical assistance and employment are concerned.
Despite “political image” factor, the discourse about the Union State is maintained and artificially developed by Russia because of its ideological and emotional substance. The idea of the Union State can serve as means of Belarusian and Russian citizens’ consolidation (reference to cultural commonness between two populations), provides working places for the officials, and paves the way towards realization of practical projects in economic and military technical spheres of the two countries.
The same is true about the Republic of Belarus. In Belarus the discourse about the Union State for 5 years had comforted the unionist feelings of Belarusian people, and when new official discourse about “protecting and respecting sovereignty of the republic” has been created (after election of V. Putin as a president of Russian Federation in 2000), which meant that the Government welcomed exclusively economic integration projects, the Union State appeared to be a wonderful framework and ideological platform for advanced partner relations between Belarus and Russia.
The answer to the question what makes partner relations between Russia and Belarus advanced is clear when to look at what the countries have and can offer to each other. Russia has oil, gas and market. Belarus has oil- and gas-pipes, military technical and processing enterprises, and serves the strategic needs of Russia by means of Belarusian military and border infrastructure.
Afore mentioned benefits created the ground for business approach in relations between Russia and Belarus, and referring to the fact that serious business can’t be done in the discourse of “brethren nations”, complimentary projects involving Belarus were elaborated by Russia within the idea of the Union State, namely, such economic integration projects as Customs Union and Common Economic Space.
It’s happening now and will be so in the future that the project of the Union State of Belarus and Russia will be perceived as working by means of development of the Customs Union and CES projects. Accordingly the signing of the Customs Union and CES’ documents is presented as a proof of the Union State’s “well-being”, regardless the factual absence of conciliatory and jointly coordinated politics between the countries, which solve intergovernmental questions by making certain concessions, not always beneficial to both of the parties.
And where Belarusian authorities stand in this regard, giving preference to “Russian business” but not to “European one”?
Belarus makes the object of Foreign Policy of Russia as well as of the EU, but the weight of Belarus in Russian and European discourses differs a lot. Hence political ambitions of the authorities but not “the welfare and people’s will” define Belarusian Foreign Policy in its turn. The attention to Belarus as a geopolitical subject, on the part of the EU has substantially increased after expansion of 2004. Still Russia’s geopolitical interest in Belarus was continuous, after dissolution of the USSR and right on.
The experience and representation of the Republic of Belarus at post-soviet space, within CIS, where Belarusian authorities feel at ease, initiate the projects, have the weight and keep their authority, regardless their political reputation, blurred by practice of authoritarian rule, are more dear and comfortable for the changeless authorities of the Republic of Belarus. In relations with Europe authoritarian rule is a cornerstone of a full-fledged partnership. What is more, political and economic instability in Belarus can hardly attract foreign business to the country.
Hence, regardless the huge attractiveness of European scientific & technical experience and investments to Belarusian economy, Belarusian authorities will participate in the integration projects, which are initiated at post-soviet space under auspices of Russia, making material and technical concessions to Russia rather than introducing system changes in political and economic spheres to comfort the EU.
The loss of “incorporation perspective” through the Union State lead to no more subsidies to Belarus from Russia, and logical shift of Moscow to adequate international relations with Belarus. For both of the parties clearly understand that no equal integration is ever possible between Belarus and Russia. Still the governments of two states prefer to present their relations at home and abroad for image sake as not pure intergovernmental, but as “integration process between Russia and Belarus” at post-soviet space.
In 2011 Russia runs the show on delivery energy resources to Belarus and strategically is two steps ahead of Belarusian government
That’s true, in terms of international relations it’s not serious for Russia and Belarus to refer to “brother nations” rhetoric in business matters and cultivate lie and eternal irrational obligation to each other. The vicious circle should once be stopped. But how for Belarus to leave it without getting in to the trap of one-sided dependence, that is the question?
In 2011 Russia in this respect left less space for Belarusian eccentricity. On the one hand Russian government made a public gesture towards Belarusian authorities by recognizing the results of elections and introducing customs free oil-export to Belarus. On the other hand 100 % of oil products’ export revenues made by Belarus are to be transferred to Russian budget plus bonus earnest of 45 USD to Russian suppliers to Belarus. Besides, RF intends to cover exclusively Belarusian needs in a customs free way with 6,3 mln. tones of oil per year, and impose duties on what exceeds.
Belarus won’t profit from realization of processed Russian oil at European markets, and will establish oil export duties according to the Customs Union rules (in favour of Russia)(5).
In 2011 Russia appeared to be as longheaded as to disarm Belarusian authorities in their elaboration on and practice of alternative ways of energy supplies to and production in Belarus.
Referring to the fact that RF imposes duties on all oil products supplied to Belarus not from Russia, the supply of Venezuelan oil via Lithuanian port and swap–supplies of Azerbaijan light oil via avers Odessa-Brody to Belarus, which will as well lead to under purchase of obligatory minimum of oil from Russia (21,7 mln. tones), are not reasonable for Belarus in 2011. The conditions put by Russia make oil supplies from Kazakhstan not much attractive to Belarus as well. The extraction of Belarusian oil in Venezuela can be repaid through its realization at the market of South America.
Nuclear Power Station construction in Belarus, initially planned to reduce energy dependence on Russia, should be totally rethought in 2011, for it’s Russia, who will construct the NPS and its infrastructure. Belarus hence increases its external dept to Russia and gives the working places to Russian workers.
The NPS project is adopted, the documents on Customs Union are signed, but no public discussions and referendum were held prior to it, regardless the fact that these projects in direct way concern the well being and future of Belarusian citizens. The decisions, which are afterwards referred to as “from the name and will of population”, are being discussed and taken behind the closed doors.
Public discussions on such issues are not typical to Belarus, and Belarusian population used to be presented with a fait accompli, sometimes not predictable.
“Objection weight”, as far as NPS construction in Ostrovets is concerned, is more feasible outside the country rather than in it (the greens from Ukraine, Lithuanian authorities, Polish experts and so on). Local activists in their turn fail to gather the required amount of signatures, establish stable communication channel with the authorities on this issue and receive adequate feedback from them. The tradition of public discussions is not cultivated in the country and critical evaluation of governmental practices is not something typical to grassroots. That explains why the referendum from the down- top is impossible in Belarus (6).
Instead a referendum, as far as NPS construction is concerned, the authorities held a symbolical public hearing in Ostrovets (7) in the cinema hall with restricted seating capacity in 2009 and devoted a “question-answer” section (not even “proposals & objections”) on the site of the “Directorate on the Nuclear Power Station Construction” (8). This rather has to deal with a kind of information support for the citizens, but in no way with common decision making.
As far as «September fever» is concerned, meaning launch and use of alternative to oil-pipe “Druzhba” and gas-pipe “Jamal-Europe” respective BTS-2 and Nord Stream, one can suppose that transit via Belarus might be reduced, but won’t be stopped, and Russia will lose nothing in it.
Firstly, stopping supplies to Europe via Belarus would contradict the principles of newly established Customs Union between the countries. What is more, within the framework of the Customs Union the parties agreed to reach equal profits in gas pricing by January 2015.
Secondly, European demand for gas is rising, and thirdly, taken from “Druzhba” for BTS-2 volumes of oil can be of threat to operation of European plants.
According to the rhetoric of Russian authorities and “Gasprom” supplies via Belarus won’t be stopped. But, in case of oil under extraction by Russia and rise of fractional oil content to be processed in the country, part of oil will be taken from “Druzhba” to fill BTS-2; also Kazakhstani oil might be involved (9).
«Information blows» between Russia and Belarus will continue
Despite the fact that the Customs Union serves as legal and institutional guarantee for real business relations between Belarus and Russia, which is interested in positive image and competitiveness of its integration project, Russian TV-criticism pushing Belarusian authorities to certain concessions and revanche-attempts from Belarusian side will continue to take place. Russia won in energy questions but has not received from Belarus a positive answer regarding privatization of Belarusian enterprises.
On the one hand, Belarus, as well as other Customs Union members, gets an opportunity to increase its sales turnover and the number of investments projects. Referring to the fact that the goods produced on the territory of Belarus and Russia are mostly competitive at CIS market, the Customs Union creation in this respect became a wise decision of Russian and Belarusian authorities.
On the other hand, the Customs Union leaves at place one-sided dependence of Belarus on Russia and doesn’t prevent possible problems with redivision of the market and import-&export-duties competition between the members of the Customs Union.
As far as Russia’s gains and losses are concerned within the Customs Union project, practically the main its “misfortune” is the perspective of coming in the country via Belarus and Kazakhstan of cheap run-of-the-mill goods from third countries, for instance from China. And this can bring damages to Russian Small and medium enterprises.
Nevertheless, we can’t but suppose that Russia, at last, decided to abandon unreliable means of providing Belarusian loyalty, which stimulated not only “dependent recipient” mood, taking subsidies as for granted and trade of loyalty, but created for Belarusian authorities a space for diplomatic manoeuvre.
(1) Принят бюджет Союзного государства на 2008 год: http://newz-eu24.ru/Prinyat_byudzhet_Soyuznogo_gosudarstva_na_2008_god;
(2) Степашин: Союз Беларуси и России неэффективно тратит бюджетные средства (08.12.2006): http://volozhin.com/news/economic/stepashin-soyuz-belarusi-i-rossii-neeffektivno-tratit-byudzhetnye-sredstva.html;
(6) Конституция Республики Беларусь / РАЗДЕЛ III / ИЗБИРАТЕЛЬНАЯ СИСТЕМА. РЕФЕРЕНДУМ: http://www.rec.gov.by/zakon/constitution03.html;
(9) С вводом трубопровода “Северный поток” транзит газа через Беларусь не сократится – глава “Газпрома” (17.02.2011): http://www.belta.by/ru/all_news/economics/S-vvodom-truboprovoda-Severnyj-potok-tranzit-gaza-cherez-Belarus-ne-sokratitsja—glava-Gazproma_i_543006.html
Published in Bell, http://www.eesc.lt/public_files/file_1307190579.pdf