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Thread: Belarus Union Moves Forward

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    Default Belarus Union Moves Forward

    Belarus Union Moves Forward
    MOSCOW -- A draft constitution to be submitted to national leaders today would unite Russia and Belarus in a new country, potentially establishing a way for President Vladimir Putin to stay in power after his second term expires.

    Boris Gryzlov, the head of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, announced last month that the draft was being prepared for Mr. Putin and Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko. If approved, the constitution could go to referendums in both countries next year.

    Although the so-called Russia-Belarus Union has been under discussion for years, some analysts think work on the project has been hastened ahead of Russia's 2008 presidential elections.

    Mr. Putin yesterday named two key allies to top Cabinet posts, fueling speculation that he is paving the way for potential successors. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was named deputy prime minister and will retain his defense post. Mr. Putin's chief of staff, Dmitry Medvedev, was named first deputy prime minister. Both have been touted as successors to Mr. Putin.

    But few think Mr. Putin is closing the door on staying in power himself.

    He has said repeatedly that the Russian constitution should not be changed to allow for more than two presidential terms. But the unification of Russia and Belarus would entail the adoption of a new constitution, opening the door to him retain power.

    "He really would like to remain in power, but he understands that prolonging his term will be badly perceived in the West and would put him on an equal footing with dictators in Central Asia," said Yevgeny Volk, the head of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office.

    "So he and his people are preparing a scheme that would make Putin remaining president digestible in the West," Mr. Volk added.

    Mr. Volk said another option being discussed inside the Kremlin is expanding parliamentary powers and turning the presidency into a largely ceremonial position. Mr. Putin then could become prime minister as head of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, the largest party in the Duma.

    In a September poll of 1,500 Russians, 51 percent supported legislation to allow Mr. Putin to run again in 2008.

    Russia and Belarus formed a loose union in 1996, but further integration has been hampered by Mr. Lukashenko's reluctance to cede power to Moscow.

    Mr. Lukashenko has ruled his country of 10.3 million with an iron fist for more than a decade, imposing Soviet-style economic controls, silencing political opponents and running a series of flawed elections. The United States has called him "Europe's last dictator" and openly supports regime change in Belarus.

    Pressure has been mounting on Mr. Lukashenko since democratic revolutions overthrew post-Soviet regimes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

    "This is a good time to put pressure on Lukashenko. He may be wondering about his political future and looking to keep at least something," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

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    Default Re: Belarus Union Moves Forward

    Putin Eyes Full Merger with Belarus
    The union, to be agreed on this week, could enable Russia's popular president to retain power by creating a new Constitution.

    President Vladimir Putin may be about to unveil a political bombshell: a full-scale union between Russia and its smaller Slavic neighbor Belarus.

    It's a plan that not only would expand Russia's territory and national prestige; it could also give Mr. Putin, required to step down when his second term ends in March, a new lease on power by producing a fresh Constitution.

    Citing Kremlin sources, the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station reported Friday that Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko will sign a union treaty during Putin's two-day visit to Minsk this week.

    A Kremlin spokesman said the report came "from the realm of speculative fantasies," though he did not deny that the long-debated Russia-Belarus union might be on the verge of realization.

    The purported deal, to be endorsed by popular referendum, would involve a full merger of the two countries, including common currency, legal system, armed forces, and state symbols. Putin would be likely to become the new superstate's provisional leader and Mr. Lukashenko its speaker of parliament, the station said.

    Belarus's beleaguered opposition called on Belarussians to the streets this week to protest "imminent annexation" by Russia.

    "It has become clear that Russia will use economic levers [such as high energy prices] to annex Belarus, or at least compel it to join a 'union state,' " Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy head of the Belarussian Popular Front coalition, said in a statement.

    Belarus is Russia's closest ally among ex-Soviet states and has long been dependent on Moscow for energy supplies, security assistance, and economic subsidies. The two countries have had a partial union since 1996, when Lukashenko championed the idea. Since the youthful and popular Putin took power from a weak Boris Yeltsin, however, Lukashenko has cooled to the idea.

    But Russia has racheted up the pressure on Lukashenko. Last week the Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom announced a new round of hikes that will triple the price Belarus paid barely a year ago. "As Lukashenko searches for ways to survive politically, it may be that cutting a deal with Putin is starting to look like his best option," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.

    Moscow has been seething with speculation about Putin's endgame. As the March presidential elections approach, Putin has not been acting like a politician on the eve of retirement. He personally led the electoral ticket of the United Russia party, which won a commanding 64 percent majority in parliamentary elections last week – a victory which he said gives him a "moral mandate" to continue exercising power.

    But one by one, theories about how he will do that have collapsed. Putin did not resign before the presidential election campaign officially began, which could have circumvented the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms and enabled him to run again in March. Last week he declined the State Duma seat he had won, ruling out scenarios that saw him as head of a parliamentary majority.

    "One of Putin's main characteristics is to never disclose his plan until the last moment," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a foreign policy journal. "He allows all sorts of misimpressions to thrive, while he bides his time and decides what he wants to do."

    Experts say a Russia-Belarus union might provide the perfect solution for Putin. "This Russia-Belarus union looks like a very timely plan, one that's closely connected with all the other things that are going on, politically, right now," says Mr. Petrov. A referendum could be held as early as March, in both countries, to approve the Constitution of the new state, followed by elections for its key leaders, says Petrov.

    Surveys show that people in mainly Russian-speaking Belarus remain deeply nostalgic for the former Soviet Union and strongly back the idea of reunification with Russia. With a two-thirds majority in the Duma, Putin would be unlikely to face impediments at home.

    "It's a very serious project. Reunification is something vast majorities in both Russia and Belarus want," says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst. He says the final details are yet to be worked out, but the basic plan under discussion would involve giant, oil-rich Russia absorbing tiny, economically dependent Belarus in much the way China took over the former British colony of Hong Kong a decade ago. "There are powerful economic and security reasons to go ahead," says Markov.

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    Default Re: Belarus Union Moves Forward

    Russia, Belarus Downplay Merger Talk
    The leaders of Russia and Belarus pledged closer cooperation on military, economic and foreign policy but gave no indication Friday that the ex-Soviet neighbors were moving closer to a long-discussed full merger.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Belarus stoked speculation that he could press for the creation of a unified state and maintain power by taking a job that would place him above the two nations' presidents after he leaves Russia's presidency next year.

    A more obvious alternative is to become Russia's prime minister — a job proposed by Dmitry Medvedev, the official just anointed as Putin's favored successor.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's office said last week that a draft constitution for a unified country's government would be part of the agenda. But the Kremlin denied Thursday that the talks would touch upon a draft constitution, and Lukashenko dampened expectations Friday by saying that the talks weren't going to produce any extraordinary results.

    "I was surprised that this visit has caused all this uproar in the West. There is no wider meaning here," he said.

    Former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich said he believes Putin and Lukashenko "disagreed on the price" for a merger.

    "Putin apparently didn't want it that much, and Lukashenko's price was too high," Shushkevich told The Associated Press.

    After meeting together for more than four hours, Putin and Lukashenko chaired a broader session of top officials from the two nations, who discussed ways to strengthen political, economic and military ties.

    Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus must cooperate on foreign policy issues and plan a coordinated response to the planned U.S. missile defense system in Europe that both oppose.

    "The issue of strengthening cooperation on foreign policy is particularly important," Putin said.

    A senior Russian general said last month that Moscow could provide Belarus with short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads as part of the Kremlin's response to U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but efforts to achieve a full merger have foundered.

    In the 1990s, Lukashenko pushed for the creation of a single state, apparently hoping to take the reins from Russia's ailing President Boris Yeltsin. Putin's election in 2000 demolished Lukashenko's hopes to rule both countries.

    Two years later the Belarusian leader angrily rejected a Kremlin proposal for incorporating his nation into Russia. In a blow to Belarus' Soviet-style economy, Russia this year doubled natural gas prices for Belarus — though the price still is lower than for other foreign customers.

    The two nations have been locked in tense talks over the price for gas for next year, and they are expected to reach a deal on a Russian loan that would help Belarus cope with a higher price.

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    Default Re: Belarus Union Moves Forward

    Russian and Belarusian airborne forces conduct drills near Polish border

    Published time: 8 Apr, 2016 14:06

    VIDEO

    COURTESY: RT's RUPTLY video agency, NO RE-UPLOAD, NO REUSE - FOR LICENSING, PLEASE, CONTACT http://ruptly.tv

    Russian and Belarusian airborne forces conducted joint drills on Thursday at a proving ground in Brest, western Belarus, not far from the Polish border.

    The troops practiced a major counter-terrorism operation to halt and destroy illegal armed formations. A total of about 400 troops and 100 units of military hardware and special equipment were deployed in the training exercise.

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