Thursday, December 6, 2007

News Item - Putin to discuss union with Belarus

Discussions on a proposed union between Russia and Belarus appear to be on once again.

Talk of a union between the two nations has surfaced repeatedly since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike other former Soviet republics like Latvia and Georgia, Belarus has maintained close and relatively friendly relations with Russia. Belarus is also heavily dependent on Russia for trade and energy supplies.

Two reasons are commonly cited for the failure of union talks. One is a supposed deep personal dislike between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, the other is Lukashenko’s belief that he should be the leader of any potential union, a condition unacceptable to Putin. In addition to having a far smaller economy, the population of Belarus is about one-fourteenth that of Russia.

The AP article linked above suggests that a Russia-Belarus Union could provide a way for Putin to remain in power after the Russian presidential elections in March. Putin, in theory, could become the leader of the new union, sidestepping the two-term limit currently in place for the president of Russia.

I think the prospects for such a union are small, at best. It seems like too cute of a political maneuver to actually work in the real world. Getting Lukashenko – who has been called “Europe’s last dictator” by critics - to voluntarily cede power now also seems unlikely. At the same time, discussion of the new state continues to surface every few years, indicating that it must have some appeal to all parties involved, so the prospect of a union cannot be ruled out entirely.

Putin is scheduled to visit Belarus on December 13.
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