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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New and Frightening Country

Despite concerns that Russia will wake up "in a new country" Wednesday, recent history and the document's own ambiguity suggest that nothing much will change even if President Boris Yeltsin does sign a union accord with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.


Similarly grand sounding deals on "integration" signed over the past few years -- in 1994 the two countries even signed a deal on monetary union -- have remained largely dead letters, and this accord offers little evidence of a more concrete approach.


Yet even if nothing much comes of it in the short-term, the very fact that Russia is suddenly contemplating this absurd leap in the dark is frightening.


The point is not that integration is a bad thing. The citizens of Belarus clearly long for closer ties with Russia, as proven by their resounding 85 percent vote in favor of reunification in a referendum in 1995. And the sentiments are equally strong in Russia.


The trouble is that what is now being proposed is a travesty of real unification and comes at a time when the two countries are, in all material ways, moving farther and farther apart.


Their economies are heading at right angles, with Belarus sliding back into state control and high inflation while Russia is moving toward financial stabilization and market freedoms.


Politically, Russia has embraced pluralism and freedom of the press, while the heavy-handed suppression of peaceful protests on the streets of Minsk is a throwback to an authoritarian past.


The union accord seems to ignore the idea that two countries must have some shared system of law and government. It also ignores the crucial problem of safeguards to ensure Belarus abides by its commitments. The creation of a customs union between the two countries has been flouted by Belarus, and has turned into a costly farce for Russia.


In short -- and this is indeed the most worrisome thing about this absurd episode -- the whole idea of signing this union accord now flies in the face of what had seemed like a positive trend in Russian politics, and in Yeltsin's behavior.


It seemed he had emerged to reform his Cabinet with a new, young team with a mandate for strong, liberal reforms. But now, under the influence of different advisers, he apparently is considering signing a blank check for one of the least democratic of post-Soviet leaders in the name of imperialistic nostalgia.


In one sense, we have already awakened in another country, whether or not the accord is signed Wednesday. It is an unpleasant reminder that, despite some optimistic signs over the past few months, the roots of Russian stability are still frighteningly weak.