By Paul Goble
Russia’s counterproductive and off-putting approach to Belarus as well as other former Soviet republics reflects “the presumptuous imperial thought which still has not left the heads of certain Russian politicians,” according to a senior Minsk official close to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
In a 4,000-word article in “Belaruskaya dumka,” Anatoly Rubinov, a former Lukashenka aide and current deputy chairman of the Council of the Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly, says that Belarusians have changed their attitude toward a union state with Russia over the past decade (beldumka.belta.by/isfiles/000167_770398.pdf).
Ten years ago, Rubinov writes, Belarusians believed that such a union would play a major role in helping both countries overcome the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but now, he argues, they would welcome it only if other countries were members as well and only if Russia itself changed its approach.
The reasons for that shift, he says, are to be found less in the ongoing development of Belarus as an independent and self-confident country with its own system and with increasingly important ties to Western Europe, the United States and China than in Russia’s “short-sighted” and “egotistical” approach to cooperation.
Examples of that abound, Rubinov says. Thus, “instead of building a second branch of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, Russia is prepared to expend enormous sums only in order to leave Belarus at the side of gas transit,” and immediately after Belarus joined the Tariff Union with Russia and Kazakhstan, Moscow introduced new tariffs on oil.
But these are symptoms of a much larger problem, he continues. On the one hand, Russia’s current “excessively pragmatic position does not correspond to its historic traditions but rather reflects the fact that “today, on the expanses of Russia rules [only] one idol – money and super profits.”
And on the other, Moscow today insists that it alone as the right to exploit natural resources on its own territory even if a union state with Belarus is finally established, while in Soviet times, the central powers that be said that the resources of the union state belonged to all the peoples of the state.
By making that shift, Russia has demonstrated that it is almost exclusively interested in the pursuit of its own interests and no one else’s. But when Belarus tries to do the same and develop relations with the European Union or with Asia, Moscow gets angry and views such steps as anti-Russian.
“At the same time,” Rubinov says, “it is impermissible not to note that Belarus pays dearly for its faithfulness to its ally Russia.” That very faithfulness has made it more difficult for Minsk to develop relations with the West, which routinely accuses Belarus of “an absence of democracy, a dictatorial regime, and Soviet methods of administration.”
“The development of democracy,” he argues, “is not a simple or rapid process. But Belarus is far from the last place in that regard among post-Soviet countries.” Nonetheless, it is routinely attacked as if it were, and the reason for that is the consistent interest Minsk has shown in a union state with Russia.
And from that it follows, Rubin says that “all the unpleasantness of Belarus in its relations with Western countries is not because of Belarus itself but because of its allied relations with Russia.” Invariably, “Belarus has drawn fire on itself” and done so out of a desire to fulfill its allied “obligations and interests.”
But Russia “unfortunately understands these interests in an extremely pragmatic and one-sided way,” as a comparison with American policy toward Georgia, Poland, and the Czech Republic show. Washington “finances” them “not in exchange for material goods but entirely for political loyalty,” something Russia won’t do at present.
Moscow has failed to see that Belarus, which could have allowed NATO forces on its territory, has not done so, a turn of events which Russians see as “completely unbelievable.” But Rubinov points out that it should be recalled just how “unbelievable” at one point was the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that happened.”
“Therefore,” he continues, Moscow “must not build its policy on the basis of petty immediate economic interests. One must directly say that the position of Russia toward Belarus as by the way to other neighboring states is a reflection of the presumptuous imperial though which has still not left the head of certain Russian politicians.”
Belarus could under circumstances move in the direction of the Baltic states, Georgia or Moldova, Rubinov says, and asks rhetorically “has no one in Russia up to know understood that possibility?” He goes on to say that the future of the Union state thus depends “not so much on Belarus but on the position of Russia,” implicitly suggesting that Moscow must change course.
The future of that formation “also to a large degree depends on Ukraine,” Rubinov says, “If Ukraine moves toward a rapprochement with Russia and enters the Tariff Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, if on this basis appears a common economic space, then of course the formation of a confederative or super-state union structure is completely possible.”
In that arrangement, he points, “Belarus would not be left one on one with Russia, and with the establishment of fraternal relations with Ukraine and Kazakhstan, its political possibilities would broaden and strengthen.” But that will require a different Russian policy toward all these states than the one now on offer.
Meanwhile, Rubinov says, Belarus will continue to seek “the maximum rapprochement with the European Union.” It is after all “at the center of Europe, not only geographically but by the level of development of science, education, culture, technology and economics – indeed by all parameters it is a typically European country.”
And Rubinov concludes in this way: “Both in the West and in the East people must clearly understand that Belarus over the course of recent times has developed into an independent sovereignty state which will not under any circumstances become part of another state or sacrifice even a small part of its sovereignty.”
“Belarus is an independent country,” he writes. “It does not have any imperial world political ambitions. It is interested only in mutually profitable cooperation and trade with all, including the United States, the European Union countries, Japan, China, South Korea and others.”
“We are Belarusians!” he says. “And this is the main unifying idea. Independently from his ethnic membership, the citizen of Belarus must feel himself to be a representative of the Belarusian people. And Belarus must nowhere be confused with a Ukrainian or a Russian. We have our own country, our own self-consciousness, our own culture and our own pride.”