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Integration or reunification?


 Russian-Belarusian integration: playing games behind the Kremlin walls. By Alex Danilovich. Ashgate, 2006. 234 pages.


Alex Battler


Ordinarily Western authors writing about USSR/Russia – even more so when writing about Belarus – have difficulty remaining ideologically neutral. They slide involuntarily into plain anti-communism which impedes objective analysis of the object they are researching. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.     The work by Alex Danilovich may be considered such an exception – to a degree; he attempted to analyze from an objectivist position the problem of integration (or reunification) between Russia and Belarus.

    It is a peculiar paradox that many in the West observe with unconcealed amazement: starting in 1994 the leaders of two countries – Russia and Belarus – have been conducting negotiations about reunification, making many treaties to that effect, but all this activity has no result: the unification hasn’t happened. Mr. Danilovich (a Belarusian by birth) undertook to explain this paradox. In the beginning of his work he specifies his research method, or rather the theoretical approach he chose: the two-level games approach, developed in detail by Helen Miller. In actual fact it is a tried and true Marxist approach that asserts the interconnection between domestic and foreign policy; it requires taking into account the interests of different subjects within states who in the course of dealing with domestic policy problems make active use of certain aspects of foreign policy. When analyzing a concrete problem, it is very important to make no mistake in selecting precisely the most significant actors in the play. Danilovich concentrates mainly on examining the executive branch – most importantly the “game” played by the two Presidents – and the legislative branch. He omits, however, the important players in the economic interests’ area; this “forgetfulness” serves him ill, as will become clear subsequently.

    Danilovich opts for a chronological mode of presentation, concentrating on a detailed description of the political aspects of interaction between not so much Belarus and Russia as the heads of these two states. His general idea is this: ever since the signing of an “integration” document of sorts in 1994 (the 1994 Treaty of Monetary Union), the two countries’ Presidents used the idea of “union” for the purpose of solving their personal domestic-policy problems – that is, ultimately, for the purpose of preserving and solidifying their personal power. In accordance with the “two-level game” approach, Danilovich describes consistently and in detail the evidence of such manipulations on the part of both Yeltsin – and subsequently Putin, to a lesser degree – and, naturally, Lukashenka. The truly intriguing narrative presents events up to the year 2003. It is well-supported with sources in precisely the Russian and Belarusian languages (the latter is extremely rare in Western political science.) Danilovich points out with justification that the majority of the population both in Russia and Belarus are all for unification. There are, however, certain objective factors impeding the process – for example, the two countries’ Constitutions that make no provisions for union with other states. That isn’t the most important factor, though, since it is no problem at all for the “authoritarian regimes” in Moscow and Minsk to add or change something in their respective Constitutions. The most important thing is this: “But unification has not occurred because one missing ingredient – the political will and determination of those who were in position to initiate and implement the necessary international agreement. In short, a failure of political leadership.» (р.163) Thus the whole paradox is explained by an absence of “political will” on the part of the two countries’ Presidents.

    This explanation may perhaps satisfy a certain number of scholars, in particular one Daniel K. Gibran of RAND Corporation who wrote an approving Foreword for this work. Indeed a leader’s political will may prove a deciding factor in a critical situation in a certain moment of history; for example, Soviet Russia’s shameful Treaty of Brest, made with Germany in 1918, happened owing to the “will” of Lenin (almost all of his comrades-in-arms were opposed.) However, even Lenin’s will alone would not have sufficed to pull off the revolution – and Churchill’s will to overcome Nazi Germany sufficed of itself. Apart from “will”, a number of objective circumstances are required that would “work” toward the ends of that “will”.

    The Russia-Belarus paradox is not explained by “the leaders’ will”, after all. First a few words, though, about the “paradox” itself. Danilovich keeps mixing up his topic without noticing: whether it is integration of the two countries or joining them together – “reunification”, to be exact. If he’s talking about integration, he should have specified its type: political, economical, cultural, etc. Generally speaking, when discussing integration one should define the term, since many scholars are unable to tell integration from internationalization – and the latter from globalization. If the discourse is about economic integration – well, Belarus and Russia are integrated to a greater degree than any country within the European Union. Danilovich himself presents on pages 74 and 133 – quoting other authors – quite impressive figures on economic integration between the two countries. (Let me add that Russia’s share of Belarus’ foreign trade was almost 50% in 2006.) Therefore Danilovich’s laments that integration is not possible without true democracy are groundless; precisely in this area there are no problems.

The real problem is the reunification of the two countries into one. Apart from the two states’ leaders’ personal interests, there is a major snag or “zakovyka” (to borrow a word from Yeltsin) in this issue, namely the difference of social systems: Belarus has managed to practically preserve socialism, while Russia developed capitalism – albeit of the feudal-monopolistic type. That is the main reason why the two countries’ reunification is impossible. It is precisely the monopolist corporations of Russia – of which just 500 control 85% of Russia’s economy – that are the main opponents of union with “red” Belarus. It is no accident that President Putin – a puppet of those monopolies - «reproached his Belarusian counterpart for his desire to create ‘something that would look like the USSR’ and firmly restated that there would be no return to the USSR. The Belarusian president viewed this remark as an insult.» (p.127)

The contradictions between systems are much more acute than political differences or Presidents’ interests. Theoretically union is possible in just two cases: if Belarus embarks on the capitalist path of development, or Russia returns to socialism, renouncing Western-style democracy. Only in those circumstances the political factors that Danilovich writes about will become decisive. At present the deciding factor is the system incompatibility between the two countries. Therein lies the paradox of the “non-reunification” between the two countries. Should the author have paid attention to the conduct of major corporations (not just Gazprom), he would easily have arrived at a similar conclusion.




Published in Perspectives on European Politics and Society (vol. 8, No. 4 (December 2007).