OSW Studies

The Republic of Belarus or the Belarussian republic?

Belarus has not broken off its bonds with Moscow after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Throughout the whole period of the Belarussian independence we can observe the country·s strong political, economic and military dependence on Russia. This dependence allows Russia to control, and even shape, the processes that take place in Belarus in all the areas mentioned.

One can speak about the existence of one common space of security and defence, dominated by Russia. The functioning of the Belarussian economy depends, to a great extent, on the supply of raw materials from Russia. Russia has ample possibilities to influence both internal political processes in Belarus and its foreign policy. These strong ties between Belarus and Russia, as well as the lasting Russian influence seen against hugely disproportionate potential of both states, makes one raise the following question: to what extent is Belarus an independent country and to what extent is it subordinate to Moscow?

Key Points

1. For Russia Belarus is an area of strategic significance, particularly for its geographical location in the direct vicinity of Poland, a member of NATO, and of the Baltic States, which also aspire to join the North Atlantic Alliance. And the shortest and the cheapest through way for the Russian raw materials and products to the West and to Kaliningrad leads via Belarus as well. For these reasons a basic goal of the Russian policy towards Belarus is to keep the country in the zone of its direct influence.
For Belarus a close cooperation with Russia is a precondition to maintain its national stability. At the same time this cooperation makes the country more and more dependent on its stronger partner. Russia is able to control Belarus by means of exerting its influence on the Belarussian politics, economy and defence. The basis for such influence is a considerable dependence of Belarus on Russia in all those areas and, to a lesser extent, the existence of the Union State.

2. The fact that the rule of Lukashenka has been recognised by Moscow as legal enables him, to a considerable extent, to function in the internal arena but also, although to a limited extent, on the international scene. This situation allows Russia to exert its influence on the decisions made by the Belarussian president. This has become particularly visible during the period just before the presidential election in Belarus. While trying to win the Russian support, Lukashenka has been made to make numerous economic concessions.
The cooperation with Moscow is a basic element of the Belarussian foreign policy. The Russian patronage and neighbourhood guarantee that the Belarussian president does not need to take into account the opinion of the West, which comes out in support of democracy and human rights in Belarus.

3. The functioning of the Belarussian economy is, to a great extent, dependent on Russia. Russia is the main trade partner of Belarus. It exercises full control over the supply and transit of power engineering raw materials. Ever more Belarussian enterprises become formally and informally (the latter one happens more often) dependent on the Russian capital. The interest of the Russian investors in the Belarussian market, which has risen during the election period, indicates that they count on economic benefit in return for the political and financial support they have lent to Alaxandr Lukashenka.

4. Because it wants to maintain its influence on the military situation in the westernmost territory of the Union State, Russia attaches great importance to military integration. For Belarus, on the other hand, the ever closer co-operation with the Russian army, the Russian aid and guarantees are the only way to maintain its military potential, although at the same time they deepen the already strong dependence of the Belarussian defence system on Moscow.

The Belarussian secret services, seen in the context of an institutional and staff-related continuity (the majority of its members have previously been working in the Soviet services), and also unlimited possibilities of obtaining information by the Russian secret services, is in fact an instrument of political control of Russia over Belarus. In principle the Belarussian secret services do not have any possibility to operate without Russia knowing it, let alone to act against Russia. On the other hand, Russia may conduct its operations in both Belarus itself and from its territory.