|-||Chairman of the Supreme State Council||A. Lukashenko|
|-||Chairman of the Council of Ministers||D. Medvedev|
|-||State Secretary||G. Rapota|
6,672,955 sq mi
|Time zone||(UTC+3 to +13)|
The Union State (Russian: Союзное государство; Belarusian: Саюзная дзяржава), semi-officially known as Union State of Russia and Belarus (Russian: Союзное государство России и Беларуси; Belarusian: Саюзная дзяржава Расіі і Беларусі), is a supranational entity consisting of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.
Originally, the Commonwealth of Belarus and Russia was formed on April 2, 1996. The basis of the union was strengthened on April 2, 1997, with the signing of the "Treaty on the Union between Belarus and Russia" at which time its name was changed to the Union of Belarus and Russia. Several further agreements were signed on December 25, 1998, with the intention of providing greater political, economic, and social integration.
Nevertheless, the nature of this original political entity remained vague. Under pressure from his own political opponents, who argued for a reunion of the two states, and from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who sought to tie his excessively weak economy to Russia's, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin initiated the creation of the current Union in order to harmonize the political and economic differences between the two nations. A similar proposal had been put forward by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1994, envisioning the founding of a "Eurasian Union", but this proposal was never adopted or seriously pursued. The Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus was signed on December 8, 1999. The intention was to eventually achieve a federation like the Soviet Union, with a common president, parliament, flag, coat of arms, anthem, constitution, army, citizenship, currency, etc. The current Union was ratified by the Russian State Duma on December 22, 1999 and the National Assembly of Belarus on January 26, 2000. The latter is the date the Treaty and the Union officially came into effect.
Institutions and legal framework
The Treaty on the Creation of a Union State has established the following institutions:
- A Supreme State Council, the highest authority in the Union State, made up of the Presidents, Prime Ministers and the heads of both chambers of the Parliaments of both countries. Each state has one vote in the Council, meaning effectively that all decisions must be unanimous.
- A Council of Ministers, composed of the member states' Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economy, and Finance and the State Secretary of the Union.
- A bicameral Union Parliament, comprising an elected House of Representatives, which contains 75 deputies from Russia and 28 from Belarus, elected by the general populace of each, and a House of the Union with an equal number of deputies (36) from each nation selected by their respective upper legislative houses. The Union Parliament has never been put into effect.
- A Court of the Union, consisting of nine judges appointed for six-year terms. The Court of the Union was never established.
- A House of Audit or Accounting Chamber, controlling the implementation of the budget.
Each member state retains its own sovereignty and international personality, meaning that Russia and Belarus are still fully responsible for their own internal affairs and external relations. The Union State cannot itself claim representation in other international organizations or overrule legislation or government decisions of its member states, except in cases specified by the Union Treaty. As such, the Union State most resembles a supranational confederation on the order of the African Union, or the Union of South American Nations.
Pavel Borodin is the current State Secretary of the Union. He was first appointed by the Supreme State Council on January 26, 2000 for a four-year term. In 2004 and 2008 his term was renewed for an additional four years.
Shortly after its inauguration, both member states seemed to have lost their initial enthusiasm for the Union, with first Russia, and then Belarus, restoring customs controls along their common border in 2001, effectively ending the customs union. Plans had also been set in motion to implement a common currency across the Union, but these have been postponed several times.
Additionally, Belarus and Russia have thus far kept their own national symbols and failed to institute any symbols or even a flag for the Union State. Nevertheless, a song called "Sovereign Union of Nations" (Russian: Державный союз народов Derzhavny soyuz narodov, Belarusian: Дзяржаўны саюз народаў Dzyarzhauny sayuz narodau) has been proposed as the Union's unofficial anthem. The song, which was modified from the National Anthem of the Soviet Union, refers to a wider union of the two nations.
On November 16, 2010 it was announced by the Union State website that the Constitutional Act is 99% ready.
Initially, Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko promised to introduce a common currency on January 1, 2004. The currency was not introduced, and the plan was pushed back by one year. On January 1, 2005, the Union State again failed to introduce a common currency, and it was again postponed by one year, which, in 2006, happened once again. During a press-conference in Minsk on February 2, 2006, Pyotr Prokopovich, chief of the National Bank of Belarus, announced that a "common currency might be introduced in 2007." This, however, failed to occur in 2007. The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus announced that, starting in 2008, the Belarusian ruble would be tied to the United States dollar instead of the Russian ruble.
Citizenship and freedom of migration
Despite lacking elaborate legal fundamentals indispensable for a union of such degree of integration, and constant frictions on a number of trade and political issues, the Union State does - in a way - provide a common citizenship. While citizens of Russia and Belarus retain their national passports and other identification papers, they have the right to work and permanently settle in either country, without formal immigration procedures otherwise mandatory for foreign nationals.
As of February 10, 2009, Russia and Belarus have implemented the first stage of joint military officer training programs designed to integrate the military structures of both countries. This military collective is called the Regional Forces Group of Belarus and Russia or RGF. The goal of these operations is to ensure cohesive training, practice and implementation of military interests for both nations and are aimed at both strategic and battle training taking place in February and March 2009. Furthermore, the current military doctrine of the Russian Federation provides that "an armed attack on the state-participant in the Union State, as well as all other actions involving the use of military force against it," should be considered "as an act of aggression against the Union State," authorizing Moscow to "take measures in response".
Flag and coat of arms
Since the formation of the Union of Russia and Belarus in 1997, there has not been official recognition of a state flag or coat of arms. There have been several drafts for flags and coats of arms.
Two proposals have been made for the flag of the Union. In all cases, they are modifications to the flag of the Soviet Union, but representing the state (not communism). In both cases, two red stars are placed in the canton of the flag (to represent the two states of the Union).
A proposed coat of arms is a modification of the double-headed eagle holding the coats of arms of Russia and Belarus. In both cases, the ideal of a single flag and coat of arms is being held back (similar to a single anthem) until the Union is to expand.
Value Added Tax controversy
Belarus and Russia had been collecting a Value added tax (VAT), meant to finance the Union State, in the country of origin, but from January 1, 2005, VAT is collected in the country of destination, as in most other independent countries of the world. This change gave rise to a considerable degree of confusion and has disrupted many trade operations between Belarus and Russia. On February 10, 2005, private entrepreneurs in Belarus staged a one-day warning strike, protesting the new VAT scheme between the two countries and Lukashenko's economic policies.
- Abkhazia currently has observer status in parliamentary sessions. In informal statements, the prime ministers of the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (currently recognised only by Russia and a few other countries) have expressed interest in joining the Union with the Spokesman of the Union reciprocating this interest. No formal requests are known so far.
- Kazakhstan had expressed interest in forming a separate customs union with Russia and Belarus by 2010. This Customs Union was formed as planned at the beginning of 2010. Kazakhstan has mentioned that it may join the Union State after some time.
- Kyrgyzstan, as of June 2007, opposition in Kyrgyzstan, which has been locked in political turmoil, had initiated a nationwide referendum to join the union of Russia and Belarus.
- Moldova In 2001, president of Moldova Vladimir Voronin announced right after his election that he had plans for Moldova to join the Union of Russia and Belarus. The coming to power of the Alliance for European Integration at the 2009 Moldovan elections has since shifted Moldovan interest towards the European Union.
- Ukraine In response to speculation about Ukraine joining the Union, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych came out with an official statement declaring that Ukraine is an independent sovereign state and this is not something that can be questioned by anyone in the government. According to a poll conducted by Russia's Levada Center in Ukraine in January–February 2010, 93% of Ukrainians have a positive view of Russia, but only 22% of Ukrainians polled supported the idea of a union with Russia.
- Serbia In 1999 the Parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia voted for the country to join the Union. In 2007 Tomislav Nikolic said during a speech that he wished that Serbia would strengthen its ties with and eventually join the Union State. Serbia has since submitted its application to the EU.
- South Ossetia: currently has observer status in parliamentary sessions. In informal statements, Abkhazian and South Ossetian prime ministers have expressed interest in joining the Union with the Spokesman of the Union reciprocating this interest. No formal requests known so far.
- Transnistria: in the Transnistrian referendum of 2006 97.2% of the population voted for a reunion of Transnistria with the Russian Federation, which analysts say indicates a possibility that Transnistria might unilaterally ask to join the Union, once it is established. Already in spring 1998, 66.5% of Transnistrian voters supported joining the Union of Russia and Belarus in a non-binding referendum by the Transnistrian state. However, not being recognised by either member, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.
On December 15, 2006, talks over the Union State were heating up. By January 2007, however, talks appeared to be stalled, as President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus stated: "The Russian leadership is demanding that we join the Russian Federation — that's what is in the heads of the Russian leadership. I don't want to bury the sovereignty and independence of [Belarus]." He added: "From all the consultations and discussions, I have understood that we have different approaches and understandings of the building of a union state", and opposed "the possibility of the [Belarus'] incorporation into Russia".
However, on October 19, 2007, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov announced that the budget of the Union State "will grow by no less than ten percent next year, and that growth will provide for worthy funding of our common projects."  This has led to speculation that the Russian government have renewed their interest in the idea.
A meeting between President Lukashenko of Belarus, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin was held in Minsk on December 13–14, 2007. This meeting received a considerable amount of media attention and raised speculation that Union State might indeed be the focus of a new initiative by both governments. Of primary interest was renewed discussion of the Union Parliament (which, though planned, was never actually realized) and a Union State Constitutional Act, an instrument which could potentially strengthen the authority of the Union. According to State Secretary Borodin, five variants of this Act were discussed at the meeting, each of which would involve a 7 to 10 year transitional period in the Union's development. Trade and energy issues were also discussed.
On May 27, 2008, President Lukashenko, acting in his current capacity as Chairman of the Supreme State Council named then Russian Prime Minister and current President Putin Chairman of the Council of Ministers. This move raised speculation that the Union was about to undergo a significant political transformation. However, the most visible and arguably important official in the Union has been the State Secretary, who runs the Union State's day to day operations. In the same meeting, State Secretary Borodin announced that the 2009 Union State budget would total 6–7 billion Russian rubles, an increase of over 2 billion rubles from 2008.
On August 1, 2011, Putin stated he supported a union of Russia, Belarus, and possibly even South Ossetia. Belarusian Foreign Minister spokesman Andrei Savinykh rejected the idea, as did Dmitri Medojev, South Ossetia's ambassador to Moscow, who stated "Our people voted for independence in a referendum in 2006 and they do not relish the idea of becoming part of the Russian Federation."
- Commonwealth of Independent States
- Continental union
- 2007 Russia–Belarus energy dispute
- Post-Soviet states
- Soviet Union
- Belarus–Russia relations
- Eurasian Union
- Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus". Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review, 2005, p. 149 
- Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 150
- Donaldson, Robert H. "Boris Yeltsin's Foreign Policy Legacy"
- Asadova, Nargiz. "An interview with Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov". Originally printed in Kommersant, June 4, 2007, p. 2. Translated by Ferghana.Ru 
- BBC News, "Russia and Belarus form confederation"
- Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 151
- Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 151-2
- National symbol
- "ДЕРЖАВНЫЙ СОЮЗ НАРОДОВ" (in Russian). 2003. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- "Belarus to link currency to dollar". Associated Press. 2007-08-15. Archived from the original on April 22, 2008. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
- "Link to joint military training". Union State Website. February 11, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
- "Union State of Russia and Belarus: a military union?". Window on Heartland. January 14, 2012.
- "Проект герба Союза России и Белоруссии (2002 г.)". Geraldika.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 2008-10-27.
- Belarus could recognize Abkhazia, S. Ossetia next year
- Abkhaz wish to join Union
- Customs Union of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan to be up and running by 2010 
- Opposition in Kyrgyzstan wants to join Russia-Belarus union
- Moldova ready for Russia Belarus union
- Communists of Moldova and the future of the country's ethno-political conflicts 
- President makes statement regarding debates over idea of so-called union of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus April 1, 2010
- Опыты независимой аналитики КУДА ИДЕМ МЫ С ЯНУКОВИЧЕМ? Центр проблемного анализа и государственно-управленческого проектирования, April 9, 2010
- Serbian Parliament Speaker Calls For Closer Russia Ties
- "That same year, the Tiraspol Supreme Soviet chairman declared that the Transnistrian republic will demand that Moldova accepts full integration into the CIS and that it joins the Russian Federation-Belarus union, viewed as a possible future model for the MTR's status vis-a-vis the Republic of Moldova. A nonbinding referendum on joining the Russia-Belarus union was held between April and June 1998, with over 66 percent of the ballots supporting the union. However, like the province of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea (isolated from Russia by independent Lithuania and Poland), the east-bank separatist region, has no common borders with either Belarus or the Russian Federation." Moldova.org Official website of the Trades Ministry of the Republic of Moldova
- "Unified state of Russia and Belarus discussed in Kremlin", an Russia Today, December 15, 2006
- "Belarus local elections end", al Jazeera, January 14, 2007
- Itar-Tass[dead link]
- President meets with State Secretary of the Belarus–Russia Union State
- Belarusian Telegraphy Agency, "Union State budget 2009 to total RUR 6–7 billion, Pavel Borodin says"
- "Russian PM Says Unification With Belarus Possible and Desirable". Voice of America. 2011-08-01. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- "Belarus rejects Putin's call for unification with Russia". Deutsche Welle. 2011-08-04. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
- This article incorporates information from the Russian Wikipedia.