Development of the alliance with the Russian Federation has always been a primary direction of the Belarusian foreign policy. Belarus is probably a unique and the only Russian strategic ally of the kind. Addressed can be special relations between the two nations that stand out notably on a generally dull background of the integration processes in the post-Soviet region.
Belarus and Russia have made their ways from the Commonwealth to the proclaimed Union of the two states - the Union that failed to fully prove its vitality. However, we can still talk on a generally positive dynamics of the bilateral relations.
In the economic field a set of measures is being implemented to establish a common economic environment. Several large-scale joint programmes and projects are being realised permitting to maintain and build-up the industrial and scientific- technical potential. The Union budget is being created.
Based on the Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on provision of equal opportunities for Belarusian and Russian economic entities and the annexed Protocol, the taxation, pricing and monetary policies are being unified. Additionally, the common customs and investment environment, equity market, joint energy and transportation system, and single scientific-technological and information environment are being established.
In the social and humanitarian sphere we talk about adjusting social standards and labour guarantees, pension and benefits provision, and safety measures. Activities are carried out to provide common approaches to the furtherance of education, culture, science, enrichment of national cultures while preserving and developing ethnic and linguistic identity of the peoples.
The prospects for integration in all spheres (political, economic, and social) were put forward in the Declaration on Further Unification of Belarus and Russia in December 1998. The Declaration defined successive advancement towards the Union. However, the goals and stages of this advancement proclaimed in the Declaration, the same as in previous loud announcements are once again overestimated and not adequate to the present realities of the bilateral relations. There hardly exist sufficient grounds to report radical changes in the integration process. There is something else that takes place chiefly due to the cautious position of the Russian side.
The Union State As far as the establishment of the Union is concerned, it has been announced that Belarus and Russia will preserve their state sovereignty within the Union. National constitutions and legislations shall be retained on the territory of the member states. This also concerns the system of state administration and governance, judicial and prosecution bodies. Vital political issues remain within the authority of each member state. Furthermore, decisions on mutual union and member state jurisdiction shall not be made, if one of the parties votes against. The Union member states retain the national state symbols. Along the same lines, the Union has its own state seal, flag, anthem and other state attributes. Belarusian and Russian citizens shall at the same time be the citizens of the Union.
The Union authority system comprises the Supreme State Council, the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Court of Justice and the Auditing Chamber. No decision within the Union shall be made without consent of the two parties. This is guaranteed by the retention in the system of the Union bodies (such as the Supreme State Council and the Parliament) of a decision-making mechanism with the two parties' approval serving as the main condition.
Another important feature is the regulation according to which formal legal documents shall not contradict member states' constitutions and constitutional documents. According to this procedure, provisions of member states' constitutions have a higher legal status than other legislative acts. Analysing the Treaty procedures and provisions of the Belarusian and Russian constitutions we can make a conclusion that at the initial stage of the Union establishment there will be no need in urgent amendments and annexes to the two constitutions.
It should be noted that in his speech at the Russian State Duma on 27 October 1999 Belarusian President
A. Lukashenko assessed the Union Treaty as nothing more than "enhancement of the realities" that had already been established within the Russia-Belarus Union. The President gave to understand that in reality nobody is talking about a "single state". The Belarusian leadership is known to have offered a "radical variant" of the Union Treaty that had been rejected by Russia. However, the Treaty on the Establishment of a Union State, signed on 8 December 1999, in Moscow, as well as the programme of activities of Russia and Belarus on the implementation of the Treaty's provisions seem to open up new possibilities for further steps in various directions of integration.
Apparently, from the viewpoint of the international law, the Union that is being built is a sort of an innovation. At least, no resemblance of such state formation has ever been seen. Some Belarusian experts in international law tend to view the Union as it is addressed in the signed Treaty as a quasi-state. It is significant that, judging by the available information the discussion addressed the variant of the Treaty on the establishment - not creation - of the Union. Analysis of the final variant of the Treaty gives grounds to assumptions that the talks are held predominantly about intentions to create the union state. According to some Russian experts, this new formation can be viewed within a wide range between an international organisation and a state.
It is also notable that certain provisions of the Treaty on the Establishment of a Union State that deal with foreign and security policies do not fully conform to the Belarusian Constitution. In particular, according to its Constitution, Belarus is striving for a neutral nuclear-free status. It is quite clear that within the framework of the union state this goal has very little chances to be achieved.
In other words, not everything is clear on what kind of a Union Belarus and Russia are going to build. In our opinion, the obvious uncertainty and vagueness of the Treaty, as well as possibility of its different interpretations are not accidental. The compromising character of the text has to be taken account of. Also, it reflects the fact that Russian ruling circles have various approaches to the ways of building relations with Belarus and the scale of advancement in the integration. It is understood that not the least significant are economic considerations, which are not always superseded by military-strategic ones.
Some Foreign Assessments of the Treaty on the Establishment of a Union State
What was the international reaction to the signing of the Treaty on the Establishment of a Union State? The American and Polish positions are of the most interest for us within the context of the subject matter of our seminar.
On 8 December 1999, James B. Foley, Deputy State Department Spokesman, briefed on the US position concerning the signature of the new Treaty between Russia and Belarus. As said by Foley, the US does not oppose integration between European states on condition that it is a mutually beneficial process; it does not hinder development of a wider transatlantic integration and has a voluntary character. Mr. Foley explained that the integration has to be a result of a "democratic process" to be viewed as a really voluntary undertaking. However, since Belarus, according to the American criteria, lacks democratic process of this kind, it is impossible - according to Foley's logic - to assume that the decision to conclude the Union Treaty with Russia reflects the will of the Belarusian people or it is voluntary per se.1 Such views apparently fit into the well-known US position on the situation in Belarus. In fact, they logically arise from this position.
Neither was the Union Treaty positively accepted in the US press. For instance, David Hoffman in the authoritative Washington Post noted that the Treaty has a chiefly symbolic meaning. The signed document, according to his viewpoint, is wordy with regard to goals and laconic with regard to specifics. The author admits that the unification idea receives political support in both states, yet the unification process goes on at a slow pace and the "mechanics", as he puts it, is barely tuned. According to David Hoffman, the new treaty is not an exception from the general trend.2
As regards the Polish position, the Polish Foreign Ministry, according to RFE RL report as of 9 December 1999, emphasised that it does not view the Belarus-Russia Union as a threat and will not treat this union as a "new subject of international law".3
The Polish Defence Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz in his interview to the Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta , published 19 January 1999, gave a more detailed explanation of the Polish position. According to Mr. Onyszkiewicz, the Polish leadership proceeds from the assumption that, having established treaty relations with Russia, Belarus still remains a sovereign state. Familiarisation with the documents relating to the new Belarusian-Russian Treaty, as noted by minister Onyszkiewicz, "does not give grounds for reconsideration of our Eastern strategy".4 In his answer to the question regarding formation of the regional Belarus-Russia army grouping, Minister Onyszkiewicz mentioned that it is Belarus and Russia that must decide what kind of joint military formations they have to establish. Polish Minister emphasised that his country's membership in NATO allows Poland to stay calm after getting news on establishment of military unions to the east of Poland. Therefore, the position is, to a certain extent, balanced. At least it lacks excessive dramatisation of the situation, taking place in connection with the signature of the Treaty on the Establishment of a Union State.
Belarus - Russia: Security and Defence Relations Interaction between Belarus and Russia in the area of security and defence is deemed to be the most impressive and advanced direction of their strategic partnership. Incidentally, Western analysts have every reason to consider this dimension of the partnership to be "the most successful part" of the integration process of Belarus and Russia. This is stated, for instance, in a analytical digest named "Moscow, the Regions and Russian Foreign Policy" prepared in 1999 by the Conflict Studies Research Centre, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.5
One of the goals of the future Union, as declared in Article 2 of the Union Treaty, is to "conduct coordinated foreign and defence policy". According to Article 17, the Union shall have an exclusive jurisdiction over "the functioning of the regional troop grouping" and "the border policy of the Union".
I would like to mention that on 28 April 1999 a Concept of the Security of the Union of Belarus and Russia was adopted by a decision of the Supreme Council of the Union of Belarus and Russia. The notion "Security of the Union", as it is used in the Concept, denotes the state of protection of the most vital interests of the Union itself and its member states from internal and external threats, providing effective functioning and development of the Union as an inter-state formation. The concept contains a methodological basis for establishing a security system for the Union of Belarus and Russia. It comprises vital interests of the Union that have to be protected from internal or external threats or opposed to them, as well as the primary areas where immediate measures have to be taken in order to strengthen the Union security. Additionally, considerations concerning the structure and the functions of the security system were laid out and major requirements concerning the organisation of its activities were formulated.
The Frontier Committee of the Union of Belarus and Russia has been established. The Plan for Activity Coordination between the State Committee for Frontier Troops of the Republic of Belarus and the Federal Frontier Service (FFS) of the Russian Federation in the Area of Border Protection of the Union of Belarus and Russia has been endorsed. The Draft Concept of the Frontier Control of the Union of Belarus and Russia, and the Plan of Unification of Legislative Acts of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on Frontier Issues for the Period of 1999-2000 have been worked out.
Four joint borderline operations have been carried out, in the course of which the Belarusian Frontier Troops prevented 140 illegal property transfers equalling to 21 billion roubles and detained 500 illegal border crossers. Representatives of the Frontier Troops of the Republic of Belarus and the FFS participate in command and post exercises, familiarisation trips to the member states' border areas to exchange experience, study borderline security systems and work out concerted activities.
To enhance the coordination of the Belarusian and Russian frontier authorities, a FFS Operations Group was established at the State Frontier Committee of the Republic of Belarus. A similar Belarusian group is to be set up with the Russian Federation FFS. A joint Borderline Development Programme is being implemented. The two parties have built 10 facilities of various designations with 5 more about to be completed.
Draft programmes of Protection of Common Belarusian and Russian Information Resources and the joint programme of Training, Retraining and Advanced Training of Security Services Personnel of the Member States of the Union of Belarus and Russia are being coordinated.
It was announced in October 1999 at the meeting of the joint boards of the Russian and Belarusian defence ministries that the year 2000 should become a year of practical implementation of a series of critical decisions of the two nations in the defence field, including decisions relating to the establishment of the regional army grouping. It is planned that the joint grouping in the western direction shall comprise units of the Moscow Military District of Russia and the Belarusian Armed Forces. Conditions of the joint use of military facilities are being discussed presently. The question of the financing of joint activities in support of the functioning of the regional grouping in 2000 has also been addressed. The funds shall be spent on the operational training activities for the command and control of the regional grouping and provision of command and control over the grouping forces and assets.
The adopted documents create conditions for the establishment of common defence environment of Belarus and Russia. This is a complicated and multilevel phenomenon. From the one hand, it is, so to say, "down-to-the-earth" and includes basic inventory of military and defence facilities. From the other hand, it "goes up" to joint air defence, anti-missile and anti-satellite defence and air space control.6 The practical work is carried out to plan the use of regional troop (force) grouping and resolve the issues of logistic support, bringing together military scientific potentials, formation of a joint defence order, development of a unified armament programme and joint personnel training.
On the whole, the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation have concluded 31 intergovernmental and inter-agency agreements in various fields of military and military-technical cooperation.
Currently, the two nations are developing a common defence doctrine. This idea was first introduced in 1997 and was reflected in the Treaty and the Charter
of the Union of Belarus and Russia. The doctrine envisages, first of all, joint opposition to sovereignty and territorial integrity threats and provision of defence capabilities of the partners and the Union as a whole.
Special attention is paid to the development of a complex programme of military- technical cooperation of the two nations with such primary strategic facilities as the Russian missile early warning station in the Baranovichi region, due to be put on combat duty in 2000.7
On the whole, as it has already been mentioned, there are no grounds to consider that the military cooperation between Belarus and Russia is confrontational by nature or is dictated by an intention to create a military threat to the neighbouring states. Additionally, it is apparent that the economic and scientific-technical factors characterising the present situation in Russia and Belarus can hardly allow talking about capabilities of the two countries to generate a considerable military threat in the area of conventional weapons.
The military integration of Belarus and Russia in unlikely to take a shape that would require Russian military presence in Belarus. Establishment of the regional grouping of troops in its present form does not envisage any redeployment of army units.
Neither Belarus nor Russia is interested in resuming military confrontation with the West. Therefore, certain alarmist considerations, which occasionally appear in analytical reports by foreign researchers, unreasonably exaggerate the situation. A Ukrainian author G. Perepelitsa, for instance, talks about a Belarusian-Russian military bloc that "not only facilitates reanimation of military confrontation in Eastern Europe, but also significantly increases military-political hegemony of Russia over the CIS member states".8 It is indicative that the Russian military leadership is not looking forward to accelerating establishment of joint Russian-Belarusian military structures or military units. As was justly noted by US analysts S. Garnett and R. Legvold, the relations between Belarus and Russia in the military sphere have not yet crossed the so-called "red line" in what concerns deployment of conventional and nuclear weapons. From their viewpoint, an approximate parallelism already exists between NATO's restraint towards Poland and Russia's restraint in Belarus.9 Such a tendency would be very positive, since in that case the border between Poland and Belarus and in a broader sense - between NATO countries and the Belarus-Russia Union would not become a perilous dividing line and would not cause additional uneasiness.
On the whole, it seems that it is necessary to strive for a situation in which the military component of the Belarusian-Russian unification process would not stand out too much and would look like a natural and proportionate expression of mutually beneficial integration steps reflected in the military-political sphere.
1 US Department of State.Washington File. European Edition - Policy Texts and Transcripts. December 8, 1999.
2 Hoffman D. As Yeltsin Totters, Russia, Belarus Sign Deal, Washington Post , December 9, 1999.
3 RFE/RL Newsline . December 9, 1999.
4 Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta , January 19, 2000.
5 Main S. Belarus'-Russia: Politics versus Economics? Moscow, The Regions and Russia's Foreign Policy . The Conflict Studies Research Centre, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Camberley, Surrey, June 1999, p. 30-31.
6 Sovietskaya Belorussia , October 28, 1999.
7 Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta , August 6, 1999.
8 G. Perepelitsa, "Belorussko-rossiiskaya voyenno-politicheskaya integratsiya i yeyo vliyaniye na bezopastnost' Ukrainy". Belorussia na pereputye: v poiskakh mezhdunarodnoi identichnisti , Pod. red. Sh. Garnetta i R. Legvolda, Moscow Carnegie Centre, Moscow, 1998, p. 106.
9 S. Garnett, R. Regvold, "Yevropeyets po nevole" : varianty vneshnei politiki Belorussii, Moscow Carnegie Centre; Doklad dlya seminara "Vneshnyaya politika Belorussii v kontekste regional'nykh integratsionnykh protsessov", Minsk, January 18, 1999, M., 1999, p. 7.
* Anatoli Rozanov , Doctor of History, Professor, Belarus State University, Minsk.