The talks between the presidents of Belarus and Russia about deeper integration have sparked a lot of discussion, debate and questions (not to mention protests) about Belarus’ sovereignty and future.
In social media, the opinions of Belarusians on this issue fluctuate from panic attacks “Will we become a part of Russia now?” to rational “Where should I go to change my passport to a Russian one?” and categorical statements such as “I don’t want to be annexed by Russia”.
TUT.BY gathered the most common and emotional integration-related questions of Belarusians and asked political observer Artem Shraybman to shed the light on the actual situation.
Will we all live in Russia now?
No, we will not live in Russia, since neither the Belarusian authorities nor the Belarusian society want this. It is much easier to add parts of foreign countries that are somehow dissatisfied with the central government or gravitate toward Russia, as was the case in Crimea.
There is nothing of the kind in Belarus.
Attempts to unite the two countries will forcefully come up against opposition from both the Belarusian state and Belarusian society. This makes the whole operation too costly to try to carry out. I doubt that sticks and carrots can make Lukashenko give up power just because “Putin want it so much”.
Sovereignty in exchange for money?
No, we don’t sell our sovereignty. This makes no sense to the authorities. The fact is that power in Belarus is not on the verge of overthrowing, there are no mass protests, economy, albeit growing weakly, sometimes slows down and the rates are not disastrous.
And even if Russia refuses to compensate for the tax maneuver and supply Belarus with gas at a preferential price, the Belarusian economy won’t collapse, people will simply become a little poorer.
When one has a bit poorer life on one side of the scale and giving up independence and hence power on the other, one must be absolutely crazy to prefer a temporary solution that deprives you of power.
Doesn’t it smell of Crimea scenario?
It doesn’t look like a Crimean scenario for several key reasons. Firstly, Crimea was and de jure remains a part of the state, which at one point decided to make a geopolitical U-turn.
After the revolution in Ukraine in early 2014, the Ukrainian authorities announced their intentions to move towards the EU, European integration and, possibly, Euro-Atlantic, including NATO.
On this occasion, parts of Ukraine itself and Russia were terrified, which led to the events in Crimea and the Donbass.
Nothing of the kind is happening in Belarus, no one is changing the course, Russia simply has nothing to react to. The country is not invited to any European structures, and it is not planning to enter any of them.
In addition, Belarus doesn’t have the same array of pro-Russian and ethnically Russian population, as it always was in Crimea. Therefore, there is no ethnic and linguistic division in Belarus that existed and still exists in Ukraine.
Besides, Belarus has quite combat-ready law enforcement agencies, especially compared to what was in Ukraine in 2014. No one knows for sure, including potential aggressors, how these law enforcement agencies will react in case of a threat.
There is a certain risk, which must also be taken into account if one is planning any annexations. All this fundamentally distinguishes the situation in Belarus from the one in Crimea.
Why don’t they ask ordinary people?
Ordinary people are left behind for two reasons. First, because we have an authoritarian state that is not accustomed to consult with ordinary people about the decisions. And even if it does, the results of elections and referenda are predefined.
And second, at the negotiations of the working groups on integration, as far as we can judge, nothing is being discussed that would concern the renunciation of independence or sovereignty.
Explore the topic:
Over the last year, the Belarusian side removed all serious political demands from the table: in July, supranational bodies “left” the agenda, turning the talks in a conversation about economic harmonization.
That is, all the topics of negotiations have become only technical, not related to sovereignty.
Will there be an armed conflict?
I don’t see any serious prerequisites for this. Relations between Belarus and Russia are not as hostile as Russia and Ukraine had after the annexation of Crimea. In Belarus, there are no pro-Russian protests which could become the reason for outside interference.
As I said, there are no such divisions in Belarus, there are no areas that would feel discriminated on the basis of language, culture, or pro-Russian moods. The country is quite united and homogeneous.
And I repeat, Belarus is not going anywhere for similar measures to be applied to. The level of conflict in relations between Belarus and Russia is several orders of magnitude lower than it was in relations between Ukraine and Russia.
Why not integrate the EU way?
This is the most important and interesting question, there are several reasons for this.
First, there are 28 states in the EU, even though some of them dominate, small countries don’t feel disadvantaged since they can always find an ally to influence the decisions of larger states.
There is a clear weight imbalance in relations between Belarus and Russia with the latter always being dominant. Or Belarus may demand a veto for all the decisions made in the union state, and this won’t suit Russia.
Besides, there is another reason, authoritarian leaders both in Russia and Belarus don’t know how to share power, both inside and outside the country. There is not a single successful integration association in the world similar to the EU with authoritarian state members.
This is no accident, authoritarian countries don’t integrate deeper than to the level of a certain free trade zone, as we built in the EAEU. Therefore, there are several political obstacles, and the most important of them is a fundamental imbalance.
One country is too small to create an equal union. Belarus, as a smaller country, is aware of this, so it will torpedo any attempts to create truly significant supranational bodies that could lead to a merger.