Vienna, May 26 – Minsk’s latest refusal to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia and even more the suggestion by some officials there that Moscow should “compensate” the Belarusian government to get it to take that step reflect underlying problems in the relationship of the two Slavic countries, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
In an essay posted online today, Sergey Markedonov argues that “the basic problem in Russian-Belarusian relations” is that the two sides entered into “the ‘unification’ process” for entirely different reasons, something that has become increasingly obvious and increasingly annoying to Moscow (www.polit.ru/author/2009/05/26/realizm.html).
For Moscow, the Moscow specialist on ethnic relations in and among the post-Soviet states insists, the Union of the Russian Federation and Belarus was never more than “an ideological project,” something that represented either a move away from “the Belovezhskaya complex” or, especially under Vladimir Putin, yet another “sublimation of Soviet nostalgia.”
But for Minsk, the entire process of a “brotherhood of Slavic states” was completely pragmatic, a policy predicated on the ability of Belarus to make use of Russian resources “for the development of [its own] national model of economics and politics” and thus reinforcing its national independence.
Such “a geopolitical dialectic,” Markedonov continues, was based on the reality that “in Moscow, no one ever considered Minsk an equal partner and ally.” Russian officials rarely consulted with their Belarusian counterparts, and consequently, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was able to realize his own version of the Sinatra doctrine – “I did it my way.”
That approach worked very much to his own advantage. On the one hand, it allowed the Belarusian leader to get aid from Russia while not ignoring his country’s location at the edge of Europe. And on the other, it helped him domestically where any concession to Moscow is likely to be seen as undermining Belarusian independence.
And those differences help to explain why in the words of Russian political scientist Andrey Suzdaltsev the union of the two countries is “such a strange formation,” lacking “a shield, a flag, a president and government, territory, citizenship, force and fiscal agencies, borders and so on” and “not being a subject of international law or a member of the UN.”
Despite that, Markedonov continues, Moscow expected Belarus to follow its lead in extending diplomatic recognition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, given that it is “not simply a strategic partner like Azerbaijan or a strategic ally like Armenia or Kazakhstan” but rather “part of a common Union state.”
Since last August, however, Moscow’s expectations for Belarus have not been met, and Markedonov strongly suggests that both because of the underlying tensions in the relationship and because of Moscow’s own evolution in thinking about Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they are not going to be anytime soon.
During Russia’s war with Georgia, Belarus ostentatiously refused to say anything about “’a genocide’ or about a ‘humanitarian catastrophe.’” And after the guns fell silent, Minsk continually put off extending recognition to the two breakaway republics, offering one implausible excuse after another, at least from Moscow’s point of view.
Over time, he continues, Russian officials have made fewer such predictions, not only because they have proven wrong in the past but also because Moscow’s own view on Abkhazia and South Ossetia has changed. Initially, it hoped that perhaps as many as 15 countries would follow its lead, but now some in Moscow have revised their view of such a development.
On the one hand, Russian officials recognize that they can exert far more control of the situation in both places if they are the only foreign embassy and hence only foreign support of these two states. And on the other, no one in the Russian hierarchy is interested in attracting attention to Moscow’s failure to achieve what it said were its goals.
But quite clearly, the failure of Belarus to follow Moscow on this rankles. And now that some Belarusian parliamentarians have suggested Moscow should “compensate” Minsk for taking such a step, at least some in the Russian capital may revisit the question of a “union state” that to date has brought Moscow few benefits.