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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Kommersant on Union with Belarus

Long it has been speculated that upon the expiration of his second term in office Vladimir Putin would establish a union with Belarus and take the position of leader of the new state, allowing him to continue on with even greater power and indefinitely. Now, Kommersant reports that plans are being considered to do just that, and Putin is holding preliminary talks with his Belarussian counterpart:

More than One Option

Minsk hopes Vladimir Putin will bring good news

Russian President
Vladimir Putin is to meet State Secretary of Russia and Belarus Pavel Borodin on Tuesday to discuss the agenda for the upcoming session of the Supreme Council of the Union of Russia and Belarus in Minsk on December 14. The Secretary’s administration sees three scenarios of the unification of the two countries. One of them would have one president for the two nations.

Three for One

The administration of State Secretary of the United State of Russia and Belarus Pavel Borodin are finishing preparations for the session of the Supreme State Council of the allies in Minsk, the main event of the year for Russian-Belarusian relations. The session is scheduled for Friday. Mr. Borodin is meeting the Russian president to discuss details to the upcoming summit, the state secretary’s aide Ivan Makushok told Kommersant. Last week the press service of the Belarusian president said that the Minsk meeting would be held to adopt the budget for the united state for the next year and the two presidents would consider a draft Constitution. The latter is the main intrigue of the Friday summit. If the leaders agree on Constitution for the two countries, the united state of Russia and Belarus can finally be created in real terms.

There are currently three Constitution drafts each of which describes the political structure and distribution of powers, Pavel Borodin told Kommersant on Monday. “This document has been discussed for the past seven years,” he said. “It is crucial now just because Russian-Belarusian relations need the legal base. Finally we will have a common parliament and legislation.”

The State Secretary handed to Kommersant three drafts of the would-be Constitution. All of them describe areas that would be under the jurisdiction of the united state. Among them are defense policy, military cooperation, international activities of the Union and admission of new members to it, border, budget, trade, customs, monetary, credit, currency and tax policies. All of the drafts would see constituencies of the united state handing common property such as transport, fuel and energy system and communications over to interstate agencies.

Pavel Borodin said that the future union would be a confederation with a common parliament and council of ministers. As for the leader, two drafts of the Constitution call him a president and the other one the head of the Supreme State Council. The first draft says that the union will be headed by the Russian president with the Belarusian leader as vice-president. The second document sees the president elected by Russians and Belarusians in a popular vote with leaders of Russia and Belarus occupying positions of two vice-presidents. The third draft suggests that the Supreme Council become the main power body. The council would feature heads of the states, governments and parliaments of Russia and Belarus. They all are going to be accountable to the chairperson of the Supreme Council who will be elected in a popular vote.

All about One Thing

Russia media reported late last week the common constitution could finally be adopted. The Ekho Moskvy radio was the first to report that the union of Russia and Belarus would become a reality on December 14. The station quoted sources close to Alexander Lukashenko last Friday saying that a constitutional act would be signed in Minsk during the session to proclaim the United State.

According to Ekho Moskvy’s source, Vladimir Putin will then become the president of the new state and Alexander Lukashenko will take the helm at the common parliament. The report was refuted later in the Kremlin and in the press service of the Belarusian president. Both parties said that the information was only “speculative fantasies of media” and “utter nonsense”.

Pavel Borodin gave his comment in an interview with Kommersant. “I don’t like what journalists have been doing recently,” he said. “They think that laws and the Constitution are drafted to suit the leader of the nation. This is ridiculous.” He said there was no talk about adopting the Constitution for President Putin or his Belarusian counterpart. Their meeting in Minsk can bring only a political decision on the issue. “The presidents can make a decision at their meeting or at the session of the State Council,” he told Kommersant. “They will then ask an ad-hoc commission to prepare the documents. Then the issue will be up for a debate at the parliament assembly of the United State, then at parliaments in Russia and Belarus and finally it will put on a vote in the referendum. The main thing is to attach an adequate timing to it. You know we love and respect each other – and that can be declared for dozens of years to come. But, according to Mr. Borodin, Vladimir Putin may as well run for the leader of the united state after Russians showed confidence to him in the recent parliamentary election.

Ivan Makushok, aide to Mr. Borodin, said that forces opposing the real integration of the two countries may be behind the leakage to the media before the session of the Supreme State Council. “The information may have been dumped to force the two presidents to drop plans for what the two countries have been preparing to do for many years,” Mr. Makushok told Kommersant.

One to One

In any case, Vladimir Putin’s visit to Minsk is a landmark event. Analysts have been saying recently that relations between Russia and Belarus are far from being perfect. They soured after the first Russian president Boris Yeltsin picked Mr. Putin as his successor. “I can say that there are no relations, or even if there are relations, they are very bad,” Leonid Zaiko, head of Belarusian analytical center Strategia, said in an interview with Kommersant. “Lukashenko was negotiating with Yeltsin the creation of the United State with the condition that he would be at the head of it some day. Putin has snatched it from under his nose. So Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] has no reasons to like Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin]. Putin to him is the man who disrupted his plans of going up to the Kremlin throne.”

But recently, Russian-Belarusian relations have seen some warming. Russian Ambassador to Minsk Alexander Surikov promised last month that Russia would be selling its gas to Belarus at about $125 per 1,000 cu. meters in 2008. The figure was cut to $119 after a hint from Belarusian counterparts. The Russian president’s visit to Belarus also proves that the parties are looking for compromises as Vladimir Putin is arriving in Minsk on Thursday to spend one day with Alexander Lukashenko.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has prepared two agendas for the upcoming session, according to Kommersant sources. One of them features the discussion of the Constitution draft and the common currency for Russia and Belarus. The other one was apparently drawn up in case Mr. Lushenko proves to be difficult as it features common foreign policy, industrial and social programs only.

Meanwhile, some people in the Kremlin are quite skeptical about the drafts of Mr. Borodin. “If the Kremlin was serious about the prospects of the Constitution being enforced, they would not have entrusted it to Borodin no matter all their respect to him,” a source close to the Russian president’s administration told Kommersant. “This is solely a prerogative of the presidential administration. Plans like this are discussed directly with the Alexander Lukashenko administration. A new legislation can’t be drafted quickly. They’ve been trying to find a compromise on it with Minsk but failed. It all comes down to the fundamental problem which is Lukashenko’s reluctance to relinquish any power.”

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