By Paul Goble
“The integration of Belarus with Russia is weakening,” according to Belarusian political scientists Rygor Atapenya and Dmitry Bolkunets whose report cites as evidence than in 2015, the last full year, Minsk had more contacts with the European Union than it did with the Russian Federation.
Atapenya of the Ostrogorsky presented their findings of their study, “Belarusian-Russian Relations after the Ukrainian Conflict” in Kaunas at the Sixth International Congress of Researchers on Belarus which took place this week (belaruspartisan.org/politic/358575/).
“After the conflict in Ukraine,” he said, “the Belarusian authorities understood that the Kremlin could use similar instruments against Belarus.” But there were other causes for what he said had been a cooling of relations, in particular, the fact that the Russian economy, now weaker isn’t able to help Belarus as much as it did.
Belaruus continues to get credits and investments from Russia and to sell its products there, “but this is not of the same extend as was the case even two or three years ago,” and “Belarusian enterprises are losing their share of the Russian market.” The Eurasian Economic Union also has not lived up to expectations.
Even more significant, Atapenya said, have been the changes in military cooperation. “Belarus has reduced its military dependence on Russia. The number of Belarusians studying military specialties in Russia has declined. [And] the number of military exercise which are conducted without Russian participation has grown.”
And perhaps most important of all, he argued, were growing differences of opinion on foreign policy questions, not only concerning Ukraine but other issues as well. “We have out own state, with its own structure and its own cadres. Government officials may be pro-Russian or pro-Western but in the first instance they are Belarusians.”
For all these reasons, he says, “we can say that we are observing the process of disintegration between Belarus and Russia.” That does not mean, however, that there is going to be “a breakdown” in relations with Moscow because “Belarus as before depends on the Russian market.” Consequently, “good ties with Russia always will be in the interests of Belarus.”