The threat of a new integration pact with Russia and the strategy of pro-Russian forces 

The threat of a new integration pact with Russia and the strategy of pro-Russian forces
Photo: Sergey Bobylev

Shortly after the presidential elections in August 2020, pro-Russian forces in Belarus declared the advantages of parliamentarism, and later became actively involved in the pretense of instituting constitutional changes. At the same time, the process of adopting a new integration package, which threatens Belarusian sovereignty, has somewhat retreated from the media agenda. But how long this lull will last remains unclear.

A nominally parliamentary republic as a backup plan for pro-Russian forces

In the second half of August 2020, when Alexander Lukashenko’s positions were very shaky and his retention of power even in the immediate future was not clear, pro-Russian forces in Belarus came out in support of strengthening the role of parliament in the country.

About a week after the elections, Oleg Gaidukevich, head of the Liberal Democratic Party and a member of the Belarusian parliament, issued a statement on the creation of the “People’s Patriotic Movement of Belarus” in support of “the unconditional preservation and development of the Union with Russia and the CSTO,” strengthening the role of parliament and convening an extraordinary parliamentary session. The statement talked about the beginning of preparations and holding constituent assemblies in all regions of the country with such an agenda in place. The events announced, however, did not take place.

Russian politician Sergei Baburin, co-chairman of the Soyuz Civic Initiative, also supported the increase in the powers of the Belarusian parliament as well as the inclusion of articulations of the Belarusian-Russian alliance and spiritual and moral values in the Constitution. In the context of expectations of an increase in the role of parliament, Baburin’s Belarusian colleagues in the Union and a group of supporters of the Western Russianist Pyotr Shapko developed an initiative to create full-fledged pro-Russian parties in the fall.

At the same time, supporters of a radical rapprochement between Belarus and Russia, which would entail a complete loss of sovereignty or the loss of a significant part of it, continue to promote the need to deepen integration as soon as possible within the framework of the Union State. In their article The Moment of Truth, Russian leaders Sergei Ivannikov and Alexei Kochetkov call the adoption of the Constitutional Act on the Union State a top priority, while the existence of the State Council of Presidents of Russia and Belarus is deemed inadvisable:

The Act should also set the goal of creating a single union government headed by the Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation.

In this scenario, Belarus would turn into a formally parliamentary republic with the existence of a de facto unified Russian-Belarusian parliament and even a government within the framework of an already real Union State.

It seems that in the event of Lukashenko’s persistence and his opposition to deepening integration, the Kremlin’s plan is to create a controlled parliament with the help of pro-Russian parties, to which Moscow would provide financial, informational, and political counseling assistance. Such a parliament could accept the integration checks necessary for the Russian leadership and ensure the preservation of Russia’s strategic interests in Belarus.

Lukashenko takes this situation into account and therefore treats it with wariness, not looking to create any real organizations in the political field, including pro-Russian ones. So far, it is highly unlikely that he will hold early parliamentary elections. Moreover, Lukashenko has already said that a part of presidential powers should be transferred not to the parliament or the government, but to the All Belarusian People’s Assembly, through which he expects to be awarded an additional constitutional status.

What about the roadmaps for “deep integration?”

Recently, the issue of negotiations between Belarus and Russia on deep integration and corresponding roadmaps has faded somewhat from the media agenda. In the public sphere, this topic was more visible in June 2020. At that time, several Belarusian-Russian events took place on the topic of integration in an online format.

However, on the eve of the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Belarus at the end of November 2020, the local editorial office of Sputnik issued a special section titled “Integration of Belarus and Russia: Union Restart” on the main page of the website. This indicates that deepening integration remains a priority issue for the Kremlin.

Within the framework of one of the June Belarusian-Russian conferences, different views of the parties about the number of documents agreed upon were revealed. According to Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev, 27 out of 31 roadmaps at that time were decided. At the same time, Belarusian Ambassador Vladimir Semashko mentioned that “28 and a half” roadmaps out of 30 were settled. That is, Minsk continued to deny the existence of the 31st roadmap on political integration, which was announced at the end of 2019 by former Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

In any case, after two telephone conversations between the current Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and his Belarusian counterpart Roman Golovchenko on December 8 and 11, 2020, educational and scientific cooperation between the two countries sharply intensified.

In mid-December, a joint meeting of the consortium of the Ministry of Education of Belarus, the State Committee on Science and Technology of Belarus, the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Russia took place. The parties agreed on the formation of a single scientific and technological space, agreed on an action plan in the field of youth policy, and concluded 14 agreements between universities of the two countries.

The Belarusian Minister of Education Igor Karpenko assured Russian colleagues that their idea of ​​patriotic education of Belarusian youth through a series of screenings of the Russian military film Podolsk Cadets will receive the green light. In addition, officials of the two countries approved the allocation of funds for additional scholarships for Belarusian students who study in Russia. Thus, concrete comprehensive measures are being taken to bring Belarus and Russia closer together in the humanities sphere.

Participation of pro-Russian forces in a constitutional farce

Pro-Russian forces in Belarus are quite actively involved in the process of imitating constitutional reform initiated by Minsk. Their consensus is to establish in the Constitution of Belarus membership in the Union State and/or belonging to the so-called Russian World. Both the Soyuz Civic Initiative and the Rodina movement, within the framework of special working groups and committees, have prepared proposals to amend the Belarusian Constitution.

Among other things, Soyuz, represented by its co-chairman Sergei Lushch and his colleagues, proposed abandoning the desire for neutral status and consolidating an enlightened pro-Russian direction. The well-known pro-Russian activist Nikolai Sergeev also proposed to prescribe Belarus’s membership in the Union State in the Constitution and remove wording that refers to Belarus seeking to become a nuclear-free zone and a neutral state. Another of Sergeev’s proposals is to mention Ancient Rus in the preamble to the Constitution as the source of Belarusian statehood. This is intended to show that Belarus supposedly “originally belongs to the civilization of the Russian world.”

The pro-Russian leader Andrei Ivanov and his associates proposed the following addition to Article 3 of the Constitution: “The Belarusian people are an integral part of the multinational Russian world.” In addition, Ivanov suggested introducing “morally conditioned censorship” in the media and replacing the provision on the diversity of ideologies and opinions with wording about “a single ideology of the spiritual and moral development of man and society” approved by the state.

Ivanov, like several other pro-Russian activists, also proposed lifting the restriction on the election of a Belarusian citizen by birth as president. Ivanov himself, born in Tomsk into the family of a Soviet officer, ran as a contender for the presidency of Belarus in the 2020 elections, despite this restriction.

In addition, Ivanov proposed a ban on historical Belarusian symbols of the white-red-white flag and the Pahonia coat of arms claiming they were “symbols of collaboration and betrayal.” Instead, he is in favor of fixing in the Constitution the banner of victory and the St. George ribbon as symbols of victory in the Second World War and the Immortal Regiment’s actions as national treasures. On the eve of the elections and following them, pro-Kremlin media also wrote about Ivanov’s idea to hold a referendum on Belarus joining Russia.

It says something that literally all the above-mentioned persons, despite the marginality of their views, are regular commentators on Sputnik Belarus. The editorial policy of this multimedia publication consists of the promotion of adherents of Western Russian and imperial Russian ideologies to further the message of a need for a close alliance between Belarus and Russia.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Угроза нового интеграционного пакта с Россией и стратегия пророссийских сил