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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Split on Belarus Union

President Boris Yeltsin approved in principle Monday an accord on union with Belarus that opponents say would be a drag on Russia's economy and further sour Moscow's relations with other former Soviet republics.


Presidential adviser Dmitry Ryurikov said Yeltsin had given the nod to a draft treaty setting out the terms of the union, Itar-Tass reported. Yeltsin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus are scheduled to sign the pact Wednesday in Moscow.


In a sign of internal discord, however, other sources said Yeltsin was still studying the document, and Ryurikov said he could not exclude changes to the draft treaty by Wednesday.


Though previous agreements on integration between the two countries have come to little, news that the two leaders intended to sign another accord set off an uproar among opponents.


The union was dubbed "nonsense" by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. "If there is unification, it will be completely mechanical because the speeds of development of Russia and Belarus are absolutely different, as are the opinions of the leaderships," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying.


He said such a union would be "a way to the destruction" of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loose association of former Soviet republics meant to succeed the Soviet Union.


Some CIS members have accused Russia of trying to dominate the organization, and they say a Moscow union with Belarus would The State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, is to discuss ratification of the union treaty April 9. Communists and their nationalist allies, who together dominate the Duma, have pledged to support the union.


Parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, has scheduled an extraordinary session for Wednesday afternoon to discuss the treaty.


A former collective farm chairman, Lukashenko, 42, is notorious for his authoritarian style of government, and in one radio interview spoke admiringly of Adolf Hitler.


Leaked copies of the confidential draft treaty have caused a furor among Russian liberals, who fear the union will give Lukashenko a say in governing Russia. They also note that the Belarussian economy is a mess and almost no serious reforms have been undertaken.


Aman Tuleyev, the minister responsible for Moscow's relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States, said such fears are unfounded. "On April 3, Russians will wake up in Russia and Belarussians in Belarus. Neither Russia nor Belarus will govern each other," he told reporters. "Each side will be empowered to block any initiative it sees as unacceptable."


And in what looked like a concession to objections raised by Russia's Central Bank, Tuleyev said a single currency was not on the agenda for the time being.


"A single currency is the climax of integration," he said. "Not even the European Union has it. We still have quite a way to go."


The integration process between Belarus and Russia was set in motion last year, when the two countries created a customs union and laid the framework for joint legislative and executive bodies.


There has been little progress since then, and Lukashenko's relations with the Kremlin have been far from smooth. In November, he snubbed a Moscow-brokered deal and went ahead with a referendum that granted him sweeping authoritarian powers.


More recently, he has drawn criticism by deporting Alexander Stupnikov, the NTV television bureau chief in Minsk, after charging that the journalist was undermining "the atmosphere of trust and of neighborly and friendly relations between Belarus and Russia."


A demonstration in support of Stupnikov outside the Belarussian Embassy Sunday in Moscow led to the arrest of several human rights activists, Itar-Tass reported.


Lukashenko's record in government makes a union with Belarus unacceptable for most liberal politicians in Russia.


"You cannot talk about integration with a state in which political repression is being carried out, the opposition is not allowed to function normally and the work of the media is being restricted," Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the reformist Yabloko party, told NTV on Sunday.


Former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar said in an interview broadcast on Russian television, "The least that should have been done was to publish [the document], consider it calmly and not rush into signing it."


But according to analysts, divisions over the treaty run deep within the Kremlin.


Tuleyev and Deputy Prime Minister Valery Serov are the most active supporters of the treaty, said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the INDEM think tank. They are opposed, however, by first deputy prime ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, and by "all the ministries connected with the economy who believe that [Belarus] will be a dead weight on the Russian economy." Yeltsin has also weighed in with his support for the union treaty, said Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow.


"The biggest force that is pushing this forward is inside Yeltsin. He wants very much to lose his complex as someone who split up the Russian [Empire] and create the image of someone who gathers together the Russian lands," Piont-


kovsky said.


Though most of Belarus' 10 million people back integration with Russia, the treaty has also run into opposition from nationalist groups.


Several thousand demonstrators are expected to take to the streets of the Belarus capital, Minsk, Wednesday to protest the signing, said Igor Germyanchuk, editor of the opposition newspaper Svaboda.


"Lukashenko sees that no one in the west is ready to talk with such an odious figure as him," Germyanchuk said in a telephone interview. "[He] wants to unite Russia and Belarus and head the new state ... his aim is to take the Kremlin throne."


aBASIC PRINCIPLES:


? union to be a separate legal entity in international relations, but members preserve "state sovereignty" and "territorial integrity"


? residents of both countries will have union citizenship


? union is open to other independent countries


? union does not affect rights and obligations of members under international treaties signed separately


GOALS:


? protecting citizens' rights, with equal access to jobs and social benefits


? joint legal system


? adherence to a common customs policy


? joint running of energy, transport and communications systems


? preparations to introduce a single currency


? coordination of foreign and military policy; joint use of military infrastructure


? promoting joint scientific research


BODIES:


? Supreme Council composed of heads of state, prime ministers, heads of parliament and a chairman of the Union Executive Committee


? council chairman elected every two years; post to rotate between the council members


? council chairman has the right to conduct negotiations on and sign international treaties on behalf of the union


? parliamentary assembly composed of heads of parliaments; adopts acts to be considered by national parliaments


? executive committee composed of prime ministers


POWERS:


? decisions of the union bodies should not exceed their authority or violate constitutions of member states


? Supreme Council decisions should be binding for executive bodies of member states; decisions must be unanimous; each member state has one vote