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Journal of Democracy 11.3 (2000) 39-47

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Russia Under Putin

Reintegrating "Post-Soviet Space"

John B. Dunlop

The debate over the likely course of Russia's development under the presidency of Vladimir Putin has paid surprisingly little attention to Putin's goal of reintegrating Russia with other former Soviet republics. As prime minister, Putin strongly supported the treaty, signed by Boris Yeltsin and Belarusan president Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 8 December 1999, that created a new Union State (soyuznoe gosudarstvo) composed of Russia and Belarus. With Putin now at the helm, the integration of Russia and Belarus has been placed on a fast track. One likely result is that Belarus will de facto lose its political independence. "Is this the creation," President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan wondered aloud, "of a Union State under which the oblasts [provinces] of Belarus will become subjects of the Russian Federation?" 1 It appears that this is indeed what the Putin regime intends.

In December 1999, Putin presented the new treaty to Russia's upper chamber, the Federation Council, for approval. When one of the senators asked Putin if "a third state should join our Union next year," he replied with some emotion: "In our post-Soviet space we are cemented by the common past, but also by the common present. Because many people are simply relatives of each other, millions and tens of millions of people. Our quest for integration will be accompanied by the strengthening of the Russian Federation. Then they will come to us themselves. This is obvious." 2 Putin's comments seemed to be addressed particularly to such newly independent states as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Estonia, and Latvia, with their large ethnic Russian and "Russian-speaking" populations.

At the opening session of the Union State's Supreme State Council, [End Page 39] held on 26 January 2000, Pavel Borodin, who had served for the previous seven years as Kremlin Property Manager, was confirmed as state secretary and first deputy prime minister of the Russia-Belarus Union. Borodin had begun his meteoric rise in December 1990, when Yeltsin had visited the city of Yakutsk in eastern Siberia, where Borodin was mayor. Impressed by how that city was organized, Yeltsin soon brought Borodin to Moscow, where he was put in charge of the Kremlin's estimated $600 billion in holdings in Russia and 78 other countries. In 1996, Borodin invited Vladimir Putin to come to Moscow from St. Peters-burg to assist him in administering this vast financial empire. (It should be noted that the Swiss authorities have issued a signed arrest warrant for Borodin on charges of money-laundering.)

A vigorous man of action, Borodin has been charged with hammering together the administrative scaffolding and pouring the economic foundations of the new Russia-Belarus Union. As Borodin has empha-sized, the new Union is very much a work in progress. "We have not yet come up with a name for the Union," he notes. "We haven't yet thought up a state emblem, and we haven't thought up a state anthem. All of this is only now being created." 3

Of one thing Borodin appears to be certain: The new Union State will shortly ingest other former USSR union republics. While visiting Minsk with president-elect Putin in mid-April 2000, Borodin confidently predicted that "Ukraine, Armenia, and Kazakhstan will join the Russia-Belarus Union in the next three to four years." 4 In January 2000, Borodin expressed the regime's intentions bluntly: "The various states that emerged in the former Soviet space are fated to live together. As Europe integrates, we shall integrate as well and live together in a tight union, not a Soviet Union, but a union all the same." 5 The "disintegration of post-Soviet space," Borodin contends, served as a "brake" on the econ-omies of the former union republics, but once they are successfully reintegrated with Russia, their economies will prosper. For this reason, Borodin noted, his favorite toast is: "Let us have many states, but the country should be one!" 6

The volatile and authoritarian president of Belarus...