President Vladimir Putin’s terrifying ‘retirement’ plan: Forcing a ‘unification’ with Belarus
Sunday - 17/02/2019 19:52
A tiny European country is about to be “absorbed” by Russia as the superpower prepares to make a geopolitical gamble.
The dominoes are once again beginning to fall in Europe. Crimea. Ukraine. Georgia. And it’s all because Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t believe in nation states. Except, perhaps, his own.
Putin has stated that “completely independent states do not exist” and that all countries are “interdependent.”
It’s a convenient line to push under current circumstances: He wants Russia to swallow-up the former Soviet Union state of Belarus.
Belarus, however, isn’t so keen.
“Belarus is ready to merge with Russia,” the Moscow Times breathlessly blared at the weekend.
But Belarusian dictator-President Alexander Lukashenko does not appear to be anywhere near as enthusiastic as the words put in his mouth entail.
He’s just been through a three-day summit with President Putin.
He knows full well how keen the Kremlin strongman is to annex his small country which sits on the border with NATO countries.
And the Moscow Times didn’t report Lukashenko repeatedly insisting on preserving his country’s sovereignty.
President Vladimir Putin has a problem.
He cannot maintain his grip over Russia without losing his legitimacy.
The constitution decrees Presidents can only serve two consecutive terms in the top job.
And he’s already had to bend laws to their limit get it.
He was president between 2000 and 2008. So he side-stepped into the role of Prime Minister, making sure he took most of nation’s power with him. Nevertheless, Putin hated appearing to be second-fiddle to President Dmitry Medvedev — so he took the job back in 2012.
As Putin shifted back into the Presidency, supreme power once again travelled with him.
But the problem remains: he is only allowed two consecutive terms.
Now, he’s one year into his final five-year term.
How can he maintain power? How can he keep himself and his interests safe within the kleptocracy he helped create. Can he trust any agreement he makes with any future front-man?
After essentially four terms as the nation’s supreme leader, there’s no wiggle room left within the law.
Unless he can find way to reset it, that is.
Russian media has speculated in recent months that Moscow is seeking to establish a unified state with ex-Soviet Belarus.
A new “superstate” would require a new leader — potentially creating a powerful new position.
Such a position would be ideal for Putin to side-step into when he reaches his constitutional limit as Russian president in 2024.
And Putin’s not making much effort in conceal his intentions.
In December, Russia’s largely irrelevant Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready for closer integration with Belarus.
According to him, this would include a common currency, shared customs services and courts. He said this was in line with a 1999 agreement to create a “union state.”
That agreement, signed by both Lukashenko and Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, outlines a full federation, including a new common flag, national symbols and a unified judiciary.
The agreement outlines a Supreme State Council run by the presidents of each nation on a rotating basis … “unless the states agree otherwise”.
And that’s the out Putin needs.
It would entail the constitutional ‘reset’ Putin needs to remain top dog.
But unification is a sensitive subject.
There’s national pride to consider. And not all of it is Russian.
Russia is Belarus’s closest ally and the two have long since formed a nominal “union” with close trade and military co-operation.
But the countries have bickered for years over a multitude of issues including energy prices and import duties.
DAVID VERSUS GOLIATH
Lukashenko, who has been visiting Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi since Wednesday, stressed the importance of his country’s independence.
“Why would we bring up questions of the sovereignty of Russia and Belarus? It is like an icon, it is sacred,” Lukashenko bravely told a largely state-run press pack while standing next to Putin.
“We have no problems with sovereignty, we did not even discuss it in this context,” Lukashenko said.
Moscow’s takeover of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine in 2014 sent shivers through Belarus.
Talks of Moscow pressure intensified after a recent oil tax change by Russia that could cost Belarus more than $10 billion by 2024.
And Lukashenko has previously accused Russia of seeking to blackmail Belarus into deeper integration.
But Belarus is already too beholden to Russian influence that he couldn’t outright reject Putin’s plan. So Lukashenko may have been attempting to buy time by saying the two countries were ready to “revise” their relations.
It’s his own fault.
Lukashenko, like Great Britain, appears to have only wanted the economic benefits of any union with Russia.
But this union is different.
And it now gives Putin the opportunity he needs to keep his status of strongman, without the ridicule of being openly called a dictator.
The Moscow Times mentioned none of Lukashenko’s hesitance.
Instead, it highlighted only his positive noises.
“The two of us could unite tomorrow, no problem,” Lukashenko is shown saying in a video shared by Pravda. The only qualifier it kept, however, was: “But are you — Russians and Belarussians — ready for it?”
It then bounced back into what Putin wanted his public to hear: “We’re ready to unite and consolidate our efforts, states and peoples as far as we’re ready.”
Putin — who has been pushing the merger idea since 2011 — is portrayed as being benevolent: “Fully independent states simply do not exist in the world,” he said, citing the European Union as an example.
But how analogous is that example? Will Belarus still elect its own leadership? Or will Putin be installed over them as the new Great Leader of a new Russian Union?