Belarus–Russia relations

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Belarus-Russia relations
Map indicating locations of Belarus and Russia

Belarus

Russia
Diplomatic mission
Embassy of Belarus in MoscowEmbassy of Russia in Minsk
The flag of Russia (left) and flag of Belarus (right) flying together.

Belarus–Russia relations refers to the bilateral relations between Belarus and Russia. The two countries share a land border and constitute the supranational Union State. Several treaties have been concluded between the two nations bilaterally. Russia is Belarus' largest and most important economic and political partner. Both are members of various international organizations, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Customs Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the United Nations.

History[edit]

Early 1990s[edit]

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the newly formed Russian state tried to maintain control over the post-Soviet space by creating, on December 8, 1991, a regional organization – the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). However, Belarus, as other republics in the CIS, started to drift away from Russia, which at that time was attempting to stabilize its broken economy and ties with the West.[1] In the early 90s, Russia was concerned that its involvement in the near abroad state such as Belarus would risk the relations it was trying to build with the West. However, as NATO began to expand eastward, Russia found itself in a difficult situation. On one hand, it was facing a breakup of the large geopolitical bloc it had once controlled; on the other, it felt that the West was trying to isolate it from the European environment by picking up the pieces of its former empire. This led to the increasing importance of good relations with Belarus.[2]

Byelorussian SSR-RSFSR relations

Byelorussian SSR

Russian SFSR

Mid through end of the 1990s[edit]

In the mid-1990s and especially with Alexander Lukashenko coming to power in July 1994, Belarus seemed an ideal candidate for integration with Russia. Russian President Boris Yeltsin said after signing, in February 1995, the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation with Belarus, that "the two nations [had] shared a common historical experience over many centuries". That, he declared, had "created the basis for signing the treaty and other documents on deeper integration of our two countries. Among all CIS countries, Belarus has the greatest rights to such a relationship due to its geographical location, its contacts with Russia, our friendship and the progress of its reforms."[3] The integration process was launched on April 2, 1996 and exactly a year later, the Union of Belarus and Russia was founded. The culmination of this process was the establishment of a Union State between the RF and Belarus on December 8, 1999.[4] The Treaty on Equal Rights of Citizens between Belarus and Russia was signed in December 1998, covering employment, and access to medical care and education.

2000s[edit]

After Vladimir Putin took office he expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the status of the relations with Belarus and criticized the 1999 treaty, the policy he had set was to put real content into this treaty. His proposal was to continue in the unification either in a federation model which meant that Belarus would join the Russian Federation or build a union which is similar to the European Union. However, Belarus refused and the status quo was maintained.[5] Despite that, the strategic value of Belarus seemed to continue to rise for Russia because of the international developments. These activities included the United States military activity in the post-Soviet space since the September 11 attacks in 2001, the eastern European states shift towards the west, the plans to deploy NATO's missile defense system in Poland or the Czech Republic, and above all the rise of the colour revolutions. As a result, despite setbacks in political and economic integration, the military-integration processes between the two states continued.[6] As Russia realized that a full integration with Belarus would be costly, it shifted its foreign policy towards a more pragmatic direction. Two major goals were distinguishable in this policy — The first was to reduce the economic burden which Belarus laid on its economy and the second was to take over the energy transit infrastructure in Belarus. These two goals have influenced most of the conflicts and Gas Wars between the two countries.

2010s and Ukrainian crisis[edit]

Since 2014, following years of embrace of Russian influence in the country, Lukashenko has pressed a revival of Belarusian identity, following the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine. For the first time, he delivered a speech in Belarusian (rather than Russian, which most people use), in which he said, “We are not Russian — we are Belarusians,” and later encouraged the use of Belarusian. Trade disputes, a border dispute, and a much relaxed official attitude to dissident voices are all part of a weakening of the longtime warm relationship with Russia.[7]

On September 14, 2017 Belarusian and Russian relations were back to normal with both conducting military drills.[8][9][10]

In 1995, the border of Russia with Belarus was destroyed. However, in 2014, the border was restored from the Belarusian side. In turn, Russia in February 2017 created a border zone on the part of the Smolensk oblast.[11]

In 2019, Lukashenko had bilateral talks in Sochi with Russian president Vladimir Putin and declared that their two countries "could unite tomorrow, no problem."[12] An idea backed by Putin for years, observers have labeled the potential plan a scheme by Putin to remain in power beyond 2024.[13] However, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov explained that "Lukashenko will play tough to the public while trying to look weak in front of Putin," and the Carnegie Moscow Center's Artyom Shraibman suggested that "Moscow will most likely fail to find its base among Belarusians."[14]

2020: Strained Relationship and Reconciliation[edit]

Belarus and Russia were both member states of the Soviet Union. Russia has historically always considered Belarus to be Russian territory. Belarusian translated in Russian means "White Russians". On January 24, 2020, signs of new tensions between Belarus and Russia showed when Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to make Belarus a part of Russia.[15] This led to Russia cutting economic subsidies for Belarus.[16] In July 2020, the relationship between Belarus and Russia was described as "strained" after 33 Russian military contractors were arrested in Minsk.[17] Lukashenko afterwards accused Russia of trying to cover up an attempt to send 200 fighters from a private Russian military firm known as the Wagner Group into Belarus on a mission to destabilize the country ahead of its August 9 presidential election.[18] On August 5, 2020, Russia's security chief Dmitry Medvedev warned Belarus to release the contractors.[16] Lukashenko also claimed Russia was lying about its attempts to use the Wagner Group to influence the upcoming election.[19]

Following the presidential election and eruption of new protests, Lukashenko mentioned by the end of August that Belarus would negotiate refinancing of its state debt worth $1bn with Russia.[20] On 14 September, Lukashenko visited Putin in Sochi, where the latter promised to loan $1.5bn to Belarus.[21]

Economic relations[edit]

Russia accounts for some 48% of Belarus' external trade. Belarus accounts for around 6% of Russia's trade.[22]

Before 2004, Gazprom sold gas to Belarus for Russian domestic prices, mainly due to the political integration process between the two countries. As this process started to falter in the 2000s and late 1990s, Gazprom wanted to ensure reliable transit of Russian gas through Belarusian territory by taking control of the Belarusian transit network. Gazprom tried to purchase the Belarusian network operator Beltransgaz, but disagreements over the price led to the 2004 Russia–Belarus gas dispute, in which Gazprom ceased supplies to Belarus on 1 January 2004. A new gas contract was signed in June 2004, and relations between the two countries improved afterwards. In January 2020 Russia temporarily suspended its discounted sale of oil to Belarus, and later negotiated a compromise. Belarus diversified its oil imports in response, receiving oil from countries including Norway, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Lukashenko accused Russia of using the oil as leverage to procure an eventual merger of Russia and Belarus.[23]

Diplomatic tension[edit]

In 2009, a serious diplomatic row erupted between the two countries. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko accused Russia of offering a $500 million loan on the condition that Belarus recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but added that the position of Belarus was not for sale. Lukashenko has declared that Belarusian citizens must abide by Georgian laws when traveling to the two regions, and the Foreign Ministry has stated that all Belarusian citizens must use points of entry on the Georgian side. Lukashenko declared that instead of Russia, Belarus should "look for happiness in other parts of the planet". Commenting on the close military cooperation between the two countries, Lukashenko likened Belarus' 10 million people as a human shield for Russia against the West, a service that he said "was not free".[22] In July 2009, the so-called Milk War erupted, when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, saying that they did not comply with new regulations. Belarus accused Russia of employing the ban for political purposes, while Russia denied that the ban was political. Russia soon lifted the ban and Belarus resumed deliveries of dairy products to Russia. However, a new dispute arose when Russia claimed that Belarus owed $231 million for gas supplies it had used since the start of the year. Belarus threatened to introduce Border and Customs control on its border with Russia, and refused to attend Collective Security Treaty Organization talks in Moscow. In an interview, President Lukashenko questioned the necessity of diplomatic relations with Russia, since Russia is "blockading" Belarus.

On May 31, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin was critical of European Union's sanctions against Belarus, and in a joint statement Putin and Lukashenko said:

"Russia and Belarus will coordinate efforts to counter attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Union State and apply pressure through the introduction of restrictive measures or sanctions."

Military cooperation[edit]

Russia and Belarus have close military relations and are engaged in various joint military-scientific activities.[24] Russia also operates several military bases and radars in Belarus which includes the Hantsavichy Radar Station an early warning radar which is run by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces and the Vileyka VLF transmitter.

As result of 2014 Ukraine crisis Russia is seeking to replace Ukrainian defense ties with Belarus.[25] On September 14, 2017 Belarusian and Russian relations were back to normal with both conducting military drills.[8][26][10]

Resident diplomatic missions[edit]

Belarus has an embassy in Moscow.[27] as well as branches in: Kaliningrad, Smolensk, St.Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Ufa, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk.[28]

Russia has an embassy in Minsk and a consulate-general in Brest.[29]

Country comparison[edit]

Belarus
Republic of Belarus
be:Рэспубліка Беларусь
ru:Республика Беларусь
Russia
Russian Federation
Российская Федерация
Flag & Coat of arms Belarus Coat of arms of Belarus (2020).svg Russia Coat of Arms of the Russian Federation.svg
Population 9,408,400 144,386,830 (excluding Crimea)
Area 207,595 km2 (80,153 sq mi) 17,098,246 km2 (6,601,670 sq mi)
Population Density 45.8/km2 (118.6/sq mi) 8.4/km2 (21.8/sq mi)
Government Unitary presidential constitutional republic Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic
Capital  Minsk – 2,020,600  Moscow – 12,506,468
Largest City
Official language Belarusian
Russian
Russian
Current Head of Government Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko (2020–present) Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (2020–present)
Current Head of State President Alexander Lukashenko (1994–present) President Vladimir Putin (1999-2008, 2012–present)
Main religions 48.3% Belarusian Orthodox Church
41.1% Non-religious
7.1% Roman Catholic
3.3% Other religions
71% Russian Orthodox Church
15% Non-religious
10% Islam
4% Other religions
Ethnic groups 83.7% Belarusians
8.3% Russians
3.1% Poles
1.7% Ukrainians
3.2% Other
80.9% Russians
3.9% Tatars
1.4% Ukrainians
1.1% Bashkirs
12.7% Other
GDP (nominal) $63.582 billion
$6,744 per capita
$1.702 trillion
$11,601 per capita
GDP (PPP) $200.089 billion
$21,223 per capita
$4.135 trillion
$28,184 per capita
Currency Belarusian ruble (Br) – BYN Russian ruble (₽) – RUB
Human Development Index 0.817 (very high) - 2017 0.824 (very high) - 2017
Expatriates 706,992 Russians in Belarus 521,443 Belarusians in Russia

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Two Decades of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy in the Commonwealth of Independent States: The Cases of Belarus and Ukraine Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, Ef.huji.ac.il, p. 17
  2. ^ Doklad ‘Rossiia-SNG’: nuzhdaetsia li v korrektirovke pozitsiia Zapada? (Moscow: Sluzhba vneshnei razvedki Rossii, 1994)
  3. ^ “Yeltsin on Protecting CIS Border,” Itar-Tass (22 February 1995), in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States: Documents, Data, and Analysis, ed. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Paige Sullivan (New York: Armonk, 1997), p. 311.
  4. ^ Two Decades of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy in the Commonwealth of Independent States: The Cases of Belarus and Ukraine Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, Ef.huji.ac.il, p. 18
  5. ^ Two Decades of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy in the Commonwealth of Independent States: The Cases of Belarus and Ukraine Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, Ef.huji.ac.il, pp. 20-21
  6. ^ Two Decades of the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy in the Commonwealth of Independent States: The Cases of Belarus and Ukraine Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, Ef.huji.ac.il, pp. 24-25
  7. ^ The Strange Death of Russia's Closest Alliance, Global Voices, 21 February 2017
  8. ^ a b "NATO Nervous As Russia, Belarus Team Up For Cold-War-Style War Games". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  9. ^ http://www.news.com.au/world/breaking-news/jitters-as-russia-belarus-start-war-games/news-story/3d2b1d27980f3ac3d496f0b246a2e7d4
  10. ^ a b "Russia and Belarus launch war games aimed at holding the line against the West". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  11. ^ "Россию и Белоруссию разделила зона". Газета.Ru. Retrieved 2018-11-23.
  12. ^ "Belarus Ready to 'Unite' With Russia, Lukashenko Says". The Moscow Times. 15 February 2019. Archived from the original on 17 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  13. ^ Brennan, David (16 February 2019). "Russia May Absorb Belarus: 'We're Ready to Unite,' President Says". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 16 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  14. ^ Sherwin, Emily (13 February 2019). "Could Russia and Belarus trade oil for national sovereignty?". DW. Moscow. Archived from the original on 13 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Lukashenka Accuses Moscow Of Pressuring Belarus Into Russian Merger". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty.
  16. ^ a b https://www.stripes.com/news/europe/russia-warns-belarus-will-pay-price-for-contractors-arrests-1.640179
  17. ^ "Belarus: Lukashenko accuses Russian mercenaries, critics of plotting attack | DW | 31.07.2020". DW.COM.
  18. ^ "Belarusian President Accuses Russia Of Trying To Cover Up Vagner Group Election Plot". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty.
  19. ^ "Belarus ruler Lukashenko says Russia lying over 'mercenaries'". BBC News. August 4, 2020.
  20. ^ "Russia to extend $1.5 bln loan to Belarus". geopolitics.news. 14 September 2020.
  21. ^ "Belarus protests: Putin pledges $1.5bn loan at Lukashenko meeting". BBC. 14 September 2020.
  22. ^ a b Oliphant, Roland (2009). "A Problem With the Udder — Belarus and Russia are tumbling into a full-blown trade war that can have only one outcome". Russia Profile. VI (2).
  23. ^ "US Sends Oil to Belarus, Seeking to Diversify From Russia". The New York Times. Associated Press. 15 May 2020. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  24. ^ "Cooperation with Russian Armed Forces | Official Website of Belarus MoD". Mil.by. Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-10-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-09-16. Retrieved 2017-09-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ "Посольство Беларуси в России". www.embassybel.ru.
  28. ^ "Belarus and Russian regions - Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus".
  29. ^ Embassy of Russia in Minsk

External links[edit]