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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shushkevich: Victim of the New Russia

It is not a coincidence that the Belarussian parliament has ignominiously ousted Stanislav Shushkevich, the country's reformist head of state, in the very same week that Russia's last committed reformer left the government in Moscow.


Shushkevich, 59, fought a losing battle over the past two years to bring reform to a sovereign Belarus. Without the strong national identity of other ex-Soviet republics, like Ukraine or Moldova, and with its historical and economic ties to Moscow, Belarus had no immediately apparent reason to go it alone when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. Since then, its economic reform program has failed to take off, largely due to the obstructive efforts of the same Communists who engineered Shushkevich's ouster on Wednesday.


But Shushkevich remained a popular figure. Despite constant attacks from conservatives, led by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich, he resisted previous efforts to oust him. He took courageous stands against efforts of a strong pro-Moscow lobby to restore ties with Russia, and he pleased the West by surrendering the country's nuclear arsenal without a fight. What changed?


In fact, Shushkevich's demise appears linked to recent political shifts in Moscow, in both foreign and economic policy.


In foreign policy, the new line set by Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev removes previous guarantees by Moscow that Belarus and the other ex-Soviet republics will be treated as sovereign states. Instead, the new "Kozyrev doctrine" describes the "near abroad" as an area of vital interest to Russia. The adoption of this line by the Kremlin sends an unmistakable signal to the hardliners in Belarus whose revanchist dreams would reunite the fraternal Slav nations.


On the economic front, the forthcoming currency unification will subordinate the Belarussian economy to that of Russia. Denounced by reformists in Moscow like ex-Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov, whose resignation was accepted on the eve of Shushkevich's ouster, the plan is being implemented by the conservative new Russian government of Viktor Chernomyrdin.


Both of these policy shifts undermined Shushkevich's efforts to sustain Belarussian sovereignty. Both came about as President Boris Yeltsin's drive to reform Russia weakened under the pressure of rising nationalism and growing discontent with the economic hardships of reform.


Political events in Russia since last autumn have encouraged a revival of Muscovy's traditional reflex in hard times: a ga-thering in of the lands. The shifts we are seeing in foreign and economic policy are first steps in efforts to reconstruct a common, Russia-controlled area. And Shushkevich of Belarus appears to be the first victim.