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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Don't Unite With Belarus Before June

On Wednesday, Russia and Belarus signed a treaty with the stated aim of merging their two nations into one.

It's not clear exactly what this latest treaty accomplishes - but Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Boris Yeltsin have been adamant that they want to sign a "full" unification treaty before the June 2000 presidential elections.

Lukashenko also said Wednesday that his vision of "full" union will involve rewriting the constitutions of both nations. The Kremlin has said nothing to contradict Lukashenko on that.

So does this mean the Kremlin is contemplating rewriting the Constitution before June 2000?

If so, does that mean presidential elections will be postponed?

If not - if the Russian-Belarussian Union is utterly innocent of such intrigue - then why is it such a rush priority?

Observers ranging from Yabloko's Grigory Yavlinsky to the LDPR's Vladimir Zhirinovsky have warned in recent months that unification is so urgent precisely because the Kremlin inner circle doesn't want to surrender its power just because Yeltsin is supposed to step down next summer.

Ten months ago, Zhirinovsky told a Spanish newspaper, "We will unite with Belarus, and by January 2000 [Yeltsin] will carry out a referendum with the question: 'Do you again want to live in a great nation?' The people, naturally, will answer, 'Yes!' A new country, a new Constitution and the right for Yeltsin to rule for another four years - given such a scenario, the people will support [Yeltsin]."

And indeed, official statements about the Russian-Belarussian Union - including those of Lukashenko and of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - clearly foresee a possible 21st-century role for Yeltsin in the new state. Perhaps Yeltsin will remain top dog in the Kremlin, for a "transition period" of some sort; perhaps he will be merely another member of the Politburo-like Higher Council, the body that the last-published draft of the treaty signed Wednesday says should govern the new union. And who knows, perhaps a few "family" members will also have seats at that Higher Council table?

There is reason to suspect that the union scenario is about subverting the democratic transfer of political power in June 2000. That's not to say this is exactly what will happen - we are talking about something as ephemeral as palace intrigue, and no one can say whether it will be executed ruthlessly or abandoned at the first sign of resistance.

The point is that the Russian and Belarussian peoples are being railroaded - they should insist on slowing down the pace. Let's have integration, if the peoples wish it, but only post-June 2000 and post-Yeltsin.