Union?

Following last week’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, many observers – myself included – chose to make fun of the way in which Lukashenko related or, rather, did not relate to Putin’s pet labrador. But perhaps more was agreed at their meeting than we originally thought..

Pavel Felgenhauer has been talking to an unidentified but "informed" source in the Kremlin:

Putin and Lukashenko apparently
agreed on a joint strategy to prevent popular democratic revolutions
from overthrowing their regimes. The Kremlin insider, speaking on
condition of anonymity, told me that a tentative agreement has been
reached that would drastically speed up the process of merging Russia
and Belarus into a bastion opposing Western-sponsored democratic change.

In a year or so, a referendum
will be held in Russia and Belarus to merge the two nations. The
Russian Constitution will be rewritten, and the State Duma will be
disbanded to create a new joint parliament. The countries’ defense and
foreign ministries will be merged. Putin will be re-elected sometime in
2007 for seven years to be president of the new joint nation with
Lukashenko as vice president. Such a combination would solve the
so-called problem of 2008, the need to replace Putin, whose second and
last term as president under the current Constitution will soon end.
Lukashenko will run with Putin as vice president, assured that the
Kremlin will be his after Putin’s seven-year term ends.

So, do I think Putin and Lukashenko will run for election in 2007 on a joint ticket?  Well, probably not.  But, maybe.  Both men – particularly Lukashenko – are running scared of a potential democratic revolution which could leave them out in the cold.  Sometimes regimes that seem calm on the surface have hidden depths which seeth with turmoil.  As Felgenhauer notes in his article:

Putin and his close cohorts have reason to be
worried. The ruling elite is split today, and not in Putin’s favor.
Over the last year, discontent has spread rapidly, engulfing previously
loyal parts of the bureaucracy. It’s not well known to the general
public, but no secret to insiders: The middle ranks of the military,
security services and law enforcement are today disgusted with Kremlin
policies and no longer support Putin’s regime.

It’s amazing how quickly a revolution can come, and they regularly take not only observers, but the politicians who are overthrown by surprise.

But, equally, there are strong reasons why this potential union may never take place.  From Putin’s perspective, the whole deal smacks of desperation and a lack of subtlety. People may just turn around and laugh at him.  Lukashenko, meanwhile, will be carefully considering just how he can
persuade Putin that a man with a very small power base can remain
important enough to not be simply discarded when no longer needed.  Will Lukashenko be better off playing the role of "bullfrog of Belarus pond" for the role of "little fish swimming next to the great white shark of the post-Soviet sea"?

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