Belarus-Russia Union State
Wwhile Belarus falls within the Russian sphere of influence and regional security calculus, it has no major Russian military base. In 1999, Lukashenko had signed an agreement with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin for the creation of a political and economic union, where the two countries would have common political institutions, economic policies, and currency. The agreement was never fully implemented, but close ties to Moscow ensured the flow of cheap Russian oil and gas, which propped up the country's economy and precluded the need for privatisation of state-owned enterprises and political opening.
Belarus and Russia are joined in a Union State that exists mainly on paper, and their militaries have close ties -- though Lukashenka has resisted Russian efforts to beef up its military presence in Belarus, which lies between Russia and NATO countries. Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EES) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), regional groupings that Russian President Vladimir Putin uses in an effort bolster Moscow's influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU and NATO.
In recent years, the Belarusian president shifted between anti-Russian and anti-Western rhetoric, trying to exploit Russian-EU tensions to secure oil and gas price discounts from Moscow. In 2020 Moscow announced that Belarus would start paying for Russian oil and gas at global prices after the Belarusian president resisted Russian pressure to go forward with the union between the two countries.
Since Putin came to power in Russia, bilateral relations have been a constant dance of approach and distancing as economic, political, and geopolitical circumstances have dictated. Belarus remains "narcotically dependent on Russian subsidies". During a memorable summit in Moscow in 2002, Putin told Lukashenka in no uncertain terms that the model for unification would be the absorption of Belarus by Russia as an additional subject of the Russian Federation. After that, Lukashenka began backpedaling against the integration process, to the point where Russia's prime minister issued the "Medvedev ultimatum," tying Moscow's continued financial support for Belarus to tangible progress on the Union State process.
The Council of Ministers of Belarus approved the new Military Doctrine of the Union State, the National Center for Legal Information said on 13 November 2018. The updated version of the document was prepared this year: it reflects the interaction of Belarus and Russia in the field of foreign policy and expanded the set of issues related to union programs. “The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus by its resolution of November 13, 2018, No. 813 approved the draft Military Doctrine of the Union State,” the message says.
There it is also noted that the doctrine to the Belarusian government was submitted by the Ministry of Defense of the Republic after coordination with the interested state bodies. The defense department is ordered to submit the draft to the Council of Ministers of the Union State.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says his country will never be part of the Russian Federation. Speaking to Russian journalists in Minsk on 14 December 2018, Lukashenka said that "sovereignty is sacred" for Belarus. "If someone wants to break [Belarus] into regions and force us to become a subject of Russia, that will never happen," Lukashenka said. Lukashenka accused Moscow of attempting "to incorporate" Belarus into Russia using oil and gas leverage. "I understand the hints [by Moscow] saying, 'OK, take our oil but for that destroy your statehood and become part of Russia'... It is useless to blackmail Belarus, to bend it, [to choke us]," Lukashenka said.
Moscow will regard any foreign aggression against Belarus as an attack on Russia, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Babich said 21 October 2018. In September 2018, Donald Trump said after the talks with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda that Washington was considering setting up a permanent military base in Poland. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterized the announced plans as a direct breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. “Any military attack on Belarus will be regarded as an attack on Russia with all the relevant consequences,” Babich told the Belarus 1 broadcaster on Sunday commenting on the NATO plans to deploy a military base near Belarus. The ambassador called the NATO plans to boost its military presence near the Russian and Belarusian borders alarming.
Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said 02 April 2017 that Western powers hadn't been able to tear Belarus away from its special relationship with Russia, but that this hadn't stopped them from trying. Moscow is monitoring the situation, and taking steps to prevent Belarus from being ripped out of its orbit, he added. In an exclusive interview for Sputnik Belarus ahead of Russia-Belarus Unity Day, a holiday marked April 2 to celebrate the creation of the Russian-Belarusian Union State in 1996, the ambassador confirmed that Moscow is fully aware of the West's machinations to try to turn Minsk against Russia.
"All the actions by the West, on both the Ukrainian and Belarusian flanks, all these actions have an anti-Russian character," Surikov emphasized. "We understand that the next efforts will be directed at Belarus, and that they have already been directed there," he added. "We can see that a variety of delegations have become frequent visitors to the country. We are looking at this closely, but understand that for now, the West does not have the strength to tear Belarus away from Russia," the diplomat noted. "And Belarus itself is not prepared to rush into the West's arms, breaking all their economic ties [with Russia]," Surikov added.
Russia is the single largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. One-third of all Belarusian exports go to Russia, including the vast majority of industrial goods--such as tractors, buses, and trucks--and dairy and meat products. Due to the structure of Belarusian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries, and Russia in particular, both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials, subsidized energy, and components.
The Union State was formed in 1999 as an attempt at political and economic integration between the former Soviet republics. It has made progress in regional military alignment, coordinated air defense and joint military maneuvers since then. Moscow and Minsk signed an agreement on joint protection of the Russia-Belarus Union State's airspace and the creation of an integrated regional air defense network in February 2009.
Both countries hold regular large-scale military drills, dubbed Zapad (West). Some 12,000 Russian and 200 Belarusian servicemen, 180 combat vehicles including 10 tanks, 10 ships from Russia’s Baltic Fleet and 40 aircraft took part in the Zapad-2013 drills. Russia and Belarus also signed an intergovernmental agreement in 2013 on cooperation in the use and development of the Glonass global navigation and positioning satellite network as part of bilateral cooperation in the exploration and peaceful use of outer space.
The Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation entered the way towards full-scale unity on April 2nd, 1996, when, impressing their peoples' will, the Presidents of the two countries, Alexander Lukashenko and Boris Yeltsin signed a Contract on the creation of a Belarusian and Russian Community in Moscow.
On April 2nd, 1997, the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation signed the Contract on the Belarus and Russia Union that added a new impulse to the process of the omnibus integration of the two states.
An important stage on the way to constructing relations and developments between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation was the signing of a Declaration on further unity between Belarus and Russia, the Contract on the equal rights of citizens, the Agreement on the creation of equal conditions for enterprises and the Protocol to it on December 25th, 1998. The two countries' Presidents stated in these documents their hard determination to continue stage-by-stage movements towards a free-will coalition, the result of which had to be a union state, with the national sovereignty of the Union's states-members to be kept.
The Contract on the equal rights of citizens as well as the Agreement on the creation of equal conditions for enterprises, stated some specific tasks and terms of major integration problem salvation in front of Belarus' and Russia's State administration authorities, and allowed them to concentrate their efforts on the most important decisive directions of the co-operation. Realisation of the measures planned in these documents had to create some premises for a breakthrough to a new working stage - creation of the Union State.
The Contract on the creation of the Union State came into force on January 26th, 2000.
In the course of the Contract's development, some normative legislative acts that regulate the Union State authorities' activities, i.e. the Statute and Regulation of the Highest State Council, regulations on the legal status and social guarantees of the Union State's officials and a number of others have been worked on and enacted.
Decisive meaning in organising effective work on the Contract's for realising the creation of the Union State are given to the Union State's authorities.
Formed and in force are the Highest State Council, Council of Ministers and Continuous Committee of the Union State. Created are Neighbouring and Customs Committees, the Committee on Security, and the Broadcaster organisation of the Union State. Also in force are united Ministries' collegiums and administrations of Belarus and Russia.
The working out of the structure of other sphere and functional bodies within the Union State has also been started, as well as suggestions for the formations of Courts, Commissions on human rights, and Treasury and Counter Chambers of the Union State.
One of the most important rings in the structure of the union bodies that are to be formed is the Parliament. Its lower chamber - the Chamber of Representatives will be elected on the basis of a general election right within a secret vote.
On the account of Union budget funds, about 40 joint programs and events receive financing. In the past two years, much work has been implemented on improving the budget process. One thing that has already been worked out and enacted is the order to provide budgetary means for the realisation of joint programmes of a reversionary and recoverable basis that gives an opportunity to further and significantly increase the Union budget on account of the frequent usage of existing financial resources.
Approximately 180 enterprises of the Republic of Belarus and more than 250 Russian ones take part in realising the joint programs.
Major efforts by Belarus and Russia were directed at preparing and enacting the documents that form a basis for the area of economic unity. The creation of equal conditions for enterprises is to make an economic foundation for the future Union State, as well as create conditions for the equal rights of Belarusian and Russian citizens.
The Custom Union agreement between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan was reached on December 2009, to come into law July 1, 2010. Complication with Belarus resulted in a slight delay and it came into force on July 6, 2010, when all three countries finally ratified it. Some customs procedures at the Russian / Belarusian and Russian / Kazakhstani border have been slightly changed by the Unified Custom Code, but the national custom posts on the borders between the three countries remain until July 1, 2011. At that time, customs clearance among the three countries was terminated and was moved to the outer borders of the CU member states. Initially most changes in custom procedures apply to passengers' luggage and cash.
The unified Custom Union Code (CUC) determines terminology, codes, and import duties on commodities shipped to the Custom Union. Custom codes and custom import duties for most food and agricultural products remain the same as Russian codes and import duties. Initially, most rules and requirements for food and agriculture imports to Russia remain unchanged. The Custom Union Commission adopts the Union's legislative documents, including those documents pertaining to the unification of veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements.
On December 9, 2010, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed 17 agreements on the establishment of the Single Economic Space, which came into effect on January 1, 2012. Its member states claim that the SES was established in compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) norms, which will take precedence over SES obligations, and ensure a free flow of goods, capital, and labor among Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. However, due to Russia’s 2012 WTO accession, Belarus, which is not a WTO member, faces competition from cheap, world-class goods that will enter Russia through the WTO and from there to Belarus. Belarus will not have the same preferential access to WTO markets as Russia.
Several important groups favor improved relations with the West to ward off increasing Russian influence. Viktor Lukashenko [President Alexander Lukashenko's son] and his supporters understand that just like democratic reforms, any real movement toward union with Russia would strip them of their privileged position. As of 2006 it was said that Belarusian business and financial elites such as Yuriy Chizh and Aleksey Vaganov understood that they cannot compete against Russian business in open privatizations. In non-transparent deals they could use their connections with European partners to buy up property. Prime Minister Sergey Sidorskiy, his first deputy Vladimir Semashko and others in the Council of Ministers such as Energy Minister Aleksandr Ozerets feared losing influence.
Lukashenko would like the West to think that he can always turn toward Russia rather than face continued isolation. In fact, options for improved relations with Moscow are limited. Many of those around the dictator seek to resist Moscow's gravitational pull. Unfortunately, Lukashenko's Soviet instincts have not allowed his underlings to appease the West with even minor democratic reforms.
The Russia-Belarus Union State will allocate 3.2 billion rubles ($91.5 million) in 2014 for joint military, defense industry and security projects, the body’s top official said 29 January 2014. The supranational entity spent only 1.3 billion rubles on defense and security from a 2.5bln-ruble budget assigned for this purpose last year, State Secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union State Grigory Rapota said. The plan for this year includes joint programs in space exploration, strengthening of the regional military contingent and construction of new military facilities, Rapota said.
Lukashenka refused to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and even ridiculed Moscow's logic justifying the annexation, saying that Mongolia could just as easily lay claim to large swaths of Russian territory. He carved out a neutral stance on the war in the Donbas, has said he would never allow Belarusian territory to be used to attack another state, and has made it clear that Belarus isn't interested in being part of Putin's so-called "Russian World." He began purging Belarus's security apparatus of suspected fifth columnists who showed excessive enthusiasm for the Kremlin's imperial projects. And he resisted Russian efforts to establish a new air base on Belarusian territory in Babruysk, telling a news conference, "We do not need it here."
Belarus didn't recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, didn't recognize Crimea's Russian status in 2014, and attempted to take an impossible 'neutral' stance toward post-Maidan Ukraine.
By early 2017 the Russian side was irritated by the constant attempts by the Belarusians to bypass the ban on the import of certain products into Russia, especially those falling under the Russian countersanctions regime [against Western countries]. Similarly, Moscow no longer wanted to tolerate Belarus's increasing debt for gas supplies, and rejected the Belarusian side's efforts to get Gazprom to retroactively change the current prices.
Belarus, which traditionally had been seen as a haven of social stability in the post-Soviet space, was rocked by a series of protests in late Marach 2017, with Western-supported activists taking advantage of social frustration over a proposed tax on the unemployed, popularly dubbed the law against 'social parasites', to rile up protest attitudes. Minsk cancelled the law, but opposition forces continued their activities, staging a large-scale protest in the Belarusian capital which resulted in 700 arrests. Western officials marked their 'deep concern' over the detentions which followed last week's protests, saying that they do not conform to democratic values such as freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech.
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