Belarus - Russia: Whither Integration?
Of the re-integration processes currently taking place in the former Soviet Union, the formation of a Russian-Belarusian so-called 'Union State' is one of the most advanced. A customs union was formally announced between the two countries as early as 1995 and the process of constructing the Union State itself was launched in December 1999. However, both events were largely driven by the perceived need to match societal demands, without much concrete action and the Union State remained largely 'virtual'. Only in the last few years has the Russian initiative allowed for moving from symbolic gestures to political action and since late 2002 debate and policy have intensified on specific issues of economic and political co-operation. However, despite such advances in the integration process, its objectives remain vague and there is little or no agreement on the principles that should govern the process. Furthermore, current bilateral relations questions still dominate the dialogue. The project seems at present to be driven mainly by the political interests of both countries' presidents and also, to a lesser extent, by the interests of business, political, military and security elites, each apparently motivated by self- and group-interest in the emerging dialogue of integration. In contrast to EU integration, the societies of the two countries involved appear to have had little or no say in the process.
Thus, several questions naturally arise. What is the real nature of such integration? What motivates the parties involved? What stage has the process reached? What likely future course will it take? What might be the consequences of it for Belarusian independence? Answers to these questions should ultimately determine the stance and policies of the enlarged EU in this area.