Union of Russia and Belarus

Infobox Country
native_name = Союзное государство России и Белоруссии
"Soyuznoye gosudarstvo Rossii i Belorussii"
Union State of Russia and Belarus


The Union of Russia and Belarus ( _ru. Союз России и Белоруссии, СРБ;"Soyuz Rossii i Byelorussii, SRB"), officially titled the Union State of Russia and Belarus (Союзное государство России и Белоруссии, СГРБ; "Soyuznoye gosudarstvo Rossii i Belorussii, SGRB") or simply called the United State (Союзное государство, "Soyuznoye gosudarstvo"), is a supranational entity consisting of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.

Creation

Originally, the Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus was formed on April 2 1996. [Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus". Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review, 2005, p. 149 [http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=816CEE9F-AFBF-4353-AD6A-E3F5D96FFDCB] ] The basis of the union was strengthened on April 2 1997, with the signing of the "Treaty on the Union between Belarus and Russia" at which time its name was changed to the Union of Belarus and Russia. [Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 150 [http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=816CEE9F-AFBF-4353-AD6A-E3F5D96FFDCB] ] Several further agreements were signed on December 25 1998, with the intention of providing greater political, economic, and social integration. [Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 150 [http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=816CEE9F-AFBF-4353-AD6A-E3F5D96FFDCB] ]

Nevertheless, the nature of this original political entity remained exceedingly vague. Under pressure from his own political opponents, who advocated a reunion of the two states, and from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who sought to tie his exceedingly weak economy to Russia's, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin initiated the creation of the current Union in order to harmonize the political and economic differences between the two nations. [Donaldson, Robert H. "Boris Yeltsin's Foreign Policy Legacy". [http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~robert-donaldson/yeltsin.htm] ] A similar proposal had been put forward by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1994, envisioning the founding of a "Eurasian Union", but this proposal was never adopted or seriously pursued. [Asadova, Nargiz. "An interview with Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov". Originally printed in Kommersant, June 4, 2007, p. 2. Translated by Ferghana.Ru [http://enews.ferghana.ru/article.php?id=1994] ] The "Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus" was signed on December 8 1999. [BBC News, "Russia and Belarus form confederation" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/555384.stm] ] The intention was to eventually achieve a federation like the Soviet Union; with a common president, parliament, flag, coat of arms, anthem, constitution, army, citizenship, currency, etc. The current Union was ratified by the Russian State Duma on December 22, 1999 and the National Assembly of Belarus on January 26, 2000. The latter is the date the Treaty and the Union officially came into effect. [Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 151 [http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=816CEE9F-AFBF-4353-AD6A-E3F5D96FFDCB] ]

Institutions and legal framework

The "Treaty on the Creation of a Union State" has established the following institutions: [Zulys, Audrius. "Toward a Union State of Russia and Belarus", p. 151-2 [http://www.ceeol.com/aspx/getdocument.aspx?logid=5&id=816CEE9F-AFBF-4353-AD6A-E3F5D96FFDCB] ]

* A Supreme State Council, the highest authority in the Union State, made up of the Presidents, Prime Ministers and the heads of both chambers of the Parliaments of both countries. Each state has one vote in the Council, meaning effectively that all decisions must be unanimous.
* A Council of Ministers, composed of the member states' Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economy, and Finance and the State Secretary of the Union.
* A bicameral Union Parliament, comprising an elected "House of Representatives", which contains 75 deputies from Russia and 28 from Belarus, elected by the general populace of each, and a "House of the Union" with an equal number of deputies (36) from each nation selected by their respective upper legislative houses. The Union Parliament has never been put into effect.
* A Court of the Union, consisting of nine judges appointed for six-year terms. The Court of the Union was never established.
* A House of Audit or Accounting Chamber, controlling the implementation of the budget.

Each member state retains its own sovereignty and international personality, meaning that Russia and Belarus are still fully responsible for their own internal affairs and external relations. The Union State cannot itself claim representation in other international organizations or overrule legislation or government decisions of its member states, except in cases specified by the Union Treaty. As such, the Union State most resembles a supranational confederation on the order of the European Union, the African Union, or the Union of South American Nations.

Pavel Borodin is the current State Secretary of the Union. He was first appointed by the Supreme State Council on January 26, 2000 for a four-year term. In 2004 and 2008 his term was renewed for an additional four years.

Developments

Shortly after its inauguration, both member states seemed to have lost their initial enthusiasm for the Union, with first Russia, and then Belarus, restoring customs controls along their common border in 2001, effectively ending the customs union. Plans had also been set in motion to implement a common currency across the Union, but these have been postponed several times.

Additionally, Belarus and Russia have thus far kept their own national symbols and failed to institute any symbols (even a flag) for the Union State. Nevertheless, a song called "Sovereign Union of Nations" ( _ru. Державный союз народов "Derzhavny soyuz narodov", _be. Дзяржаўны саюз народаў "Dzyarzhauny sayuz narodau") has been proposed as the Union's unofficial anthem. The song, which was modified from the National Anthem of the Soviet Union, refers to a wider union of the two nations. [ cite web|url=http://www.russianmaster.ru/gimn.html#sd |title=ДЕРЖАВНЫЙ СОЮЗ НАРОДОВ |accessdate=2008-02-22 |date=2003 |language=Russian ]

Common currency

Initially, President Lukashenko promised to introduce a common currency on January 1 2004. The currency was not introduced, and the plan was pushed back by one year. On January 1, 2005, the Union State again failed to introduce a common currency, and it was again postponed by one year, which, in 2006, happened once again. During a press-conference in Minsk on February 2 2006, Pyotr Prokopovich, chief of the National Bank of Belarus, announced that a "common currency might be introduced in 2007." This, however, failed to occur in 2007. Starting in 2008, the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus announced that the ruble will be tied to the United States dollar instead of the Russian ruble. [cite news | title= Belarus to link currency to dollar | url= http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2007/08/15/belarus_to_link_currency_to_dollar/ | publisher= Associated Press | date=2007-08-15 | accessdate=2007-10-01 ]

Value Added Tax controversy

Belarus and Russia had been collecting a Value added tax (VAT), meant to finance the Union State, in the country of origin, but from January 1, 2005, VAT is collected in the country of destination, as in most other independent countries of the world. This change gave rise to a considerable degree of confusion and has disrupted many trade operations between Belarus and Russia. On February 10, 2005, private entrepreneurs in Belarus staged a one-day warning strike, protesting the new VAT scheme between the two countries and Lukashenko's economic policies.

Contemplated expansion

*flag|Abkhazia: in informal statements, the prime ministers of the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, currently recognised only by Russia and Nicaragua, but with Belarus having announced its intention to follow suit, have expressed interest in joining the Union with the Spokesman of the Union reciprocating this interest. No formal requests known so far.Abkhaz wish to join Union [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYOA31KDE1s] ] .

*flag|Kazakhstan has expressed interest in forming a separate customs union with Russia and Belarus by 2010. There is talk of Kazakhstan fully joining the Union of Russia and Belarus "after some time" [Customs Union of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan to be up and running by 2010 [http://www.gtk.gov.by/en/news?id=633] ]

*flag|Kyrgyzstan, as of June 2007, opposition in Kyrgyzstan, which has been locked in political turmoil, has initiated a nationwide referendum to join the union of Russia and Belarus [Opposition in Kyrgyzstan wants to join Russia-Belarus union [http://news.trendaz.com/cgi-bin/readnews2.pl?newsId=941962&lang=EN] ] .

*flag|Moldova In 2001, president of Moldova Vladimir Voronin announced right after his election that he has plans for Moldova to join the Union of Russia and Belarus. [Moldova ready for Russia Belarus union [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1281492.stm] ] [Communists of Moldova and the future of the country's ethno-political conflicts [http://www.ecmi.de/download/brief_3.pdf] ] .

*flag|Serbia In 1999, the parliament of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia voted for the country to join the Union [Article from 1999. "Serbia hails union with Russia and Belarus [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/317509.stm] ] . In 2007, Tomislav Nikolić (then deputy leader of the opposition Serbian Radical Party) during his speech said he wished for Serbia to strengthen ties with the union and eventually join the Union [Serbian Parliament Speaker Calls For Closer Russia Ties [http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/05/d272d5d8-f93d-4337-a490-c1a723b00483.html] ] .

*flag|South Ossetia: in informal statements, Abkhazian and South Ossetian prime ministers has expressed interest in joining the Union with the Spokesman of the Union reciprocating this interest. No formal requests known so far.

Renewed interest

On December 15, 2006, talks over the Union State were heating up. [ [http://russiatoday.ru/news/news/1068 "Unified state of Russia and Belarus discussed in Kremlin"] , an article in "Russia Today", 15-12-06 22:05 ] By January 2007, however, talks appeared to be stalled, as President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus stated: "The Russian leadership is demanding that we join the Russian Federation - that's what is in the heads of the Russian leadership. I don't want to bury the sovereignty and independence of [Belarus] ." He added: "From all the consultations and discussions, I have understood that we have different approaches and understandings of the building of a union state", and opposed "the possibility of the [Belarus'] incorporation into Russia". [ [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/16DA1999-33AD-4449-AFDF-74895C1A4FBD.htm "Belarus local elections end"] , Al Jazeera, January 14, 2007 ]

However on October 19, 2007, Russian Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, announced that the budget of the Union State "will grow by no less than ten percent next year, and that growth will provide for worthy funding of our common projects." [ [http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=11987393&PageNum=0 Itar-Tass ] ] This has led to speculation that the Russian government have renewed their interest in the idea.

A meeting between President Lukashenko of Belarus, then-President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin was held in Minsk on December 13-14, 2007. This meeting received a considerable amount of media attention and raised speculation that Union State might indeed be the focus of a new initiative by both governments. Of primary interest was renewed discussion of the Union Parliament (which, though planned, was never actually realized) and a Union State Constitutional Act, an instrument which could potentially strengthen the authority of the Union. According to State Secretary Borodin, five variants of this Act were discussed at the meeting, each of which would involve a 7 to 10 year transitional period in the Union's development. Trade and energy issues were also discussed. [President meets with State Secretary of the Belarus-Russia Union State [http://www.president.gov.by/en/press37872.print.html] ]

On May 27, 2008, President Lukashenko, acting in his current capacity as Chairman of the Supreme State Council named current Russian Prime Minister, and former President, Vladimir Putin Chairman of the Council of Ministers [Belarusian Telegraphy Agency, "Union State budget 2009 to total RUR 6-7 billion, Pavel Borodin says" [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24839107/] ] . This move has raised speculation that the Union is about to undergo a significant political transformation as a vehicle for Prime Minister Putin's political objectives after he was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as President of the Russian Federation in 2008. Until now, the most visible and arguably important official in the Union has been the State Secretary, who runs the Union State's day to day operations. In the same meeting, State Secretary Borodin announced that the 2009 Union State budget would total 6-7 billion Russian rubles, an increase of over 2 billion rubles from 2008.

See also

*Commonwealth of Independent States
*Continental union
*Russia-Belarus energy dispute
*Post-Soviet states
*Soviet Union

References

External links

* [http://www.soyuz.by/en Portal of the Union State] en (Russian)


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