No Merger of Russia, Belarus, Just ‘Living Integration’, Kremlin Says after Putin-Lukashenko Meeting
No actual “merger” of Russia and Belarus, its closest ally, is on the way, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Friday, in the wake of yesterday’s meeting of the presidents of the two countries, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow.
“No, a merger of the states into a single one [was] not [discussed],” Peskov told reporters after the in-person meeting between the leaders of Russia and Belarus.
Vladimir Putin‘s press secretary, however, emphasized the ongoing nature of the “integration” of the former Soviet states.
“As for integration issues, integration is a permanent process, it is a living mechanism. Integration issues are on the agenda all the time,” he added, as cited by Russian state-run news agency Tass.
The Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus have had what is official described as a “Union State” since December 1999.
The confederation-type arrangement, which has been in place for more than 20 years now, has been the closes relation of Russia with another of the successor states of the former Soviet Union.
The Union State of Russia and Belarus has a Supreme State Council chaired by Lukashenko since its inception in 2000. However, the two countries have no common political institutions.
The “union state” has officially been focused primarily on economic relations, and despite frequent speculations of a potential “merger”, or a Russian takeover of Belarus, Belarusian Lukashenko has at times demonstrated distancing from Moscow and sought to portray himself as a protector of Belarusian independence.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with the summer of 2020 posing the most significant challenge to his rule with previously unimaginable mass street protests. Putin has been at Russia’s helm since 1999 (having spent four years in the less important Prime Minister post in 2008 – 2012). The relations between the two leaders of the Union State nations are believed to be close but without great personal sympathies.
During his news conference on Friday, April 23, 2021, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied speculations that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko may have discussed merging the two countries into a single state at their latest meeting in Moscow the previous day.
Speculations to about a Russia – Belarus “merger” have loomed large in Western as well as in Russian media in the recent weeks, especially after on April 17, the Belarusian leader declared that he was going to make “one of the most crucial decisions” of his presidency.
Lukashenko did not reveal any details, explaining only that it would likely be a presidential decree.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov stated on Friday that he was not aware of what statement Lukashenko was going to make in the near future.
“I am unaware of that. As you know, there have been no statements so far, so we here do not know what it is all about, just like everyone else,” Putin’s press secretary said.
On April 15, 2021, the Kremlin announced a phone call between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, stating that they had “expressed mutual determination to boost allied ties between Russia and Belarus in all areas.”
According to the Kremlin press service, back then Putin and Lukashenko also touched upon efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in connection with the Belarusian president’s visit to Azerbaijan on April 13-14, 2021.
“We need to understand that the sovereignty of Belarus is today under threat,” Belarusian opposition politician Pavel Latushko commented following Lukashenko’s enigmatic statement on April 17, as cited by Reuters, seeming referring to the possibility of a Moscow takeover of Belarus.
Speculations of a “Belarus’ incorporation into Russia”, as some wordings have it, have come against the backdrop of heighten tensions between Russia and the West, with a Russian miltiary buildup around Ukraine’s borders, in Crimea and along the areas of the Donbass War, and the promise of a top-level US – Russian summit of Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together“, among other books.