Belarus Solves Its Re-Joining Russia?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/02/2011 12:02:00 AM
[NOTE: Instead of watching a country breaking apart over balance of payments difficulties, today we have possibly another route that involves being re-absorbed by a country that appears to be on sounder financial footing.] Ah, the end of the Iron Curtain. Certainly one of the more momentous occurrences in our lifetimes, it has certainly affected the course of contemporary globalization. While many Soviet satellites were more than happy to see the back of their erstwhile Russian overseers, others have over the years become mini-Soviet Unions replete with Gosplan-ish state control of the commanding heights. One of these, of course, is Belarus.

With Alexander Lukashenko definitely in the authoritarian mould and Russia becoming increasingly so during the Putin years, I suppose it was only inevitable that the twain considered joining up again like in the good ol' days--for some, at least. To be sure, both sides can potentially reap political-economic gains: Putin once famously called the breakup of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century." What better way to reassess its dominion over near-neighbours by turning back the clock to the glory days of Leonid Brezhnev or something to that effect? Meanwhile, hapless Belarus is by now probably tired of turning to the IMF as a repeat borrower whose policies have not done the trick of setting it on a steadier course. A rich, preferably non-Western, sugardaddy can aid in this respect.

And so it has come to pass that PM Vladimir Putin has mooted the reconquista of Belarus by Russia. With arguably as close cultural ties to Russia than anyone else, it probably won't be much of a, pardon the term, structural adjustment. From the Associated Press:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he supports calls for Russia to merge with its western neighbor Belarus. Belarus has been an independent state since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Speaking at a Kremlin youth camp, Putin said Monday the return to Soviet-style unity is "possible, desirable and wholly dependent on the will of the Belarusian people." Russia and Belarus already have open borders, with their citizens able to travel freely and seek employment in either country.

Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a fierce defender of his country's sovereignty. But Belarus is mired in its worst financial crisis since independence, and Lukashenko is under pressure to sell key parts of its industry to Russians in exchange for a bailout.
While rent-seeking is, on the balance, more profitable when you have a state of your own to plunder, the constant humiliation of having to resort to the Western-friendly IMF may force the hand of Belarus' leaders other than Lukashenko. Certainly Putin isn't above goading them to ask for it. A Putin-orchestrated "Belarussian Spring"? Perhaps.

UPDATE: I almost forgot that this is far from the only Russian political-economic ploy to reintegrate Belarus. Remember its far-fetched plan to join the WTO as a customs union together with Kazakhstan and Belarus.