Saturday, September 6, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Recognition of Breakaway Republics Could Revive Union State and Allow Putin to Be Its Leader

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 6 – Now that Moscow has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, those two breakaway republics may join the Union State that currently includes only the Russian Federation and Belarus, an action that could give new life to that institution, according to the Union State’s executive secretary.
In an appearance on Ekho Moskvy on Thursday night, Pavel Borodin said this could happen before the end of the year, and he insisted that it would involve mostly economic cooperation and as such would not constitute the annexation of these countries by Russia or “violate any norms of international law (
Throughout the program, he insisted that “the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia [does not represent any] expansion of the territory of Russia or the Union State.” Instead, Borodin said, both recognition and the inclusion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was about the creation of new jobs.
At the same time, however, he pointed out that “a citizen of Belarus and a citizen of Russia are citizen[s] of the Union State,” and consequently, once the two new states so far recognized only by the Russian Federation and Nicaragua join, their citizens would become citizens of the Union State as well.
Borodin’s enthusiasm about this possibility clearly reflects his unstated belief that the inclusion of new members in the Union State, even new members like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, will breathe new life into the institution and perhaps lead not only to a deepening of relations among its members but also to an additional expansion in their number.
But there are potentially at least two other consequences of such moves, neither of which does Borodin mention or even imply. On the one hand, if the Union State takes on new life, then it could become the matrix for the reconstitution of a Moscow-centered state potentially far larger than the Russian Federation
That could attract some of the post-Soviet states, but because of the specter it would create of a new empire, the very idea would likely repel others. Moreover, it could lead to demands by some republics within the Russian Federation to become direct members of the Union State, a move most Moscow officials would oppose.
And on the other, if that happens, such a state would need a new leader, and one is clearly available: Vladimir Putin. A year ago, when the Moscow media were full of discussions on how Putin might be able to overcome a constitutional prohibition against a third term, many thought the establishment of a new Union State with a new presidency might do the trick.
That idea was ultimately discarded, largely because of Belarusian resistance – Mensk leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka may like being close to Moscow but he clearly does not want to give up his office except for a more important one – and the current tandem of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev was elaborated.
But as many analysts have suggested, the current situation may not be the final one, and thus the most important implication of Borodin’s remarks this week is that there are at least some people in Moscow, who are now thinking again about the Union State option and the possibility that the current Russian prime minister could be its president.

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