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2004-05-31 : Round Table talk “The Russian-Byelarussian Relations within the Context of European Integration”
IIEPS RAS and the Faculty of International Relations of Byelorussian State University, with the organizing support of the Byelarus Republic Embassy in the RF held the 7th Round Table talk “The Russian-Byelorussian Relations within the Context of European Integration”.

As a chief geopolitical project in the CIS framework, the relations of Russia and Byelarus and building of the Union State keep attracting the attention of both countries' research community. On April 13-14, 2004 in Moscow, the 7th round table was held, on the subject "The Russian-Byelorussian relationship within the European integration context". It was organized by the Institute for International economic and political studies (IIEPS) RAS and the International relations faculty for Byelorussian State University. Organizational support was rendered by the Byelorussian Republic Embassy in the RF. The leading researchers of IIEPS RAS, IMEMO RAS, the Institute of national economic forecasts of RAS, the Institute of the CIS countries, the Institute of State and Law for RAS, All-Russia Academy of Foreign Trade, administrative officers of the Parliamentary Assembly of Russia-Byelarus Union, experts of the State Duma (RF Federal Assembly) committees on security, CIS affairs and links with the compatriots took part in the meeting. Bilateral forums in such a form have been conducted since 1998 in Moscow and Minsk alternately, providing the analysis of various aspects of the integration processes between RF and Republic of Byelarus.

Like at the previous meetings, the 7th round table participants confirmed the importance and necessity of subsequent development of the integration processes between Russia and Byelarus. In the meantime, it was also noted that since early 2004 Moscow's and Minsk's approaches have endured serious changes as regards the methods and timing of carrying-out integration. The Byelorussian government's refusal to adopt the single currency starting from January 1, 2005 in spite of the previously achieved agreements, "gas scandal", the unsolved question of acquisition of Byelorussian gas-transport systems by Gazprom have put the integration building to an actual standstill. It's impossible to characterize the current stage of bilateral relations as integration-stimulating, it's better to identify these relations as foreign economic connections. An extremely slow development of the integration processes has caused doubts from the part of both Russian and Byelorussian experts as to how realistic the very task build the Russian-Byelorussian Union State would be.
Alongside, the factors which are able to ensure stable development of Russia-Byelorussian political and economic integration are still important. The problem lies in the fact, that so far the parties were unable to create effective mechanisms for realizing mutual integration interests. The economic situation was developing ambivalently. The Russian Federation still remains a basic economic and trade partner of Republic of Byelarus. In 2003, Russia's share made up to 58% out of the total foreign trade turnover of Byelarus Republic, which, in its turn, persistently occupies the second (after Germany) position in Russia's foreign trade turnover, before China, the United States, the Ukraine and Italy. Nevertheless, the parties haven't managed to elaborate a long-term program of breakthrough directions relating to cooperation in the sphere of high technologies. The exports from Belarus remain Russia-oriented, Russia making up to 41.7% share in all-republican exports.
For the last three years fixed at the same, evidently insufficient level of 2.5 bln rubles, the Union state budget is scattered among separate ministries and authorities. The very principle of proportionality (1 to 2) as regards the union budget formation reduces the scope of the integration process. The participants of the meeting (Deputy responsible secretary, Parliamentary Assembly for the RF-RB Union state A. Prosina, professor, All-Russia academy of foreign trade A. Belchuk, professor of the Institute for national economic forecasts, RAS F. Klotsvog, the IIEPS RAS leading researcher A. Shurubovich) voiced for increasing Russia's part in the union budget from 2/3 up to the level, so that it better correlate with Russia's GDP, that is 95% higher than that of Byelarus. In the speakers' view, the efficiency of union budget use might be expanded as a result of creating an expertise council for joint programs stock-taking so that it help selecting only those programs, which would prove stimulating for contemporary high-end technologies. It will be quite opportune to form a Counting chamber as a body that would control union budget performance, as envisaged by the regulatory documents.
The question, to what extent the difference of Russia-Byelarus economic systems hinders subsequent development of bilateral integration, has aroused active discussion. Recognizing the existence of this solution-requiring problem, the experts formulated a common view that it constituted no insurmountable obstacle, as soon as the extent of the integration depended not as much on the property form, as rather on the conditions under which the economic subject performed, on the extent of its freedom in questions of pricing and foreign trade activities (A.Belchuk). At the same time, the maintaining differences of Russia's and Byelarus' economic systems can be overcome only on the basis of free will, gradualism and mutual commitment. Practically, it means that Byelarus could take into account Russian proposals in the financial sphere, while Russia could take advantage of the Byelorussian economic regulation methods and its state marketing system (F.Klotsvog).
The problem of energy resources, actualized by the so-called "gas scandal", was specially discussed. The situation is complicated by the 90%-dependence of the Byelorussian economy on energy supplies from Russia. Settlement of the conflict would require 200 mln. dollars, which was basically acceptable for Russian budget. However, the state, possessing 37,5% shares in "Gazprom" company, ceded to the demands of the corporate sector which was striving to increase gas prices for Byelarus up to the world prices level. "Gas" issues caused a lively controversy among the participants. The majority of experts considered that issuing from the interests of strategic partnership, Russia should continue gas supplies to Byelorussia at internal Russian prices (A. Belchuk, F. Klotsvog, State Duma expert F. Godin, senior researcher of the Institute for National Economic Forecasts RAS V.Ivanov). The idea of "gas conflict" being merely a conflict around gas prices with no underlying political reasons brought some discord to the discussion. (Head of the sector for Belorussia, the Institute for the CIS states A. Fadeev ) The opponents of this view paid attention to some consequences which could jeopardize all the structure of Russian-Byelorussian relations. Among those most important hereby is low probability of Byelorussian industrial complex's viability under current conditions, which in its turn can cause socio-political problems in the country, the progress along the "Georgian scenario" and, in the outcome, a radical shift in Byelorussia's foreign political orientation.
Currently being guaranteed unsatisfactorily, political and legal provisions for the integration process constitute a paramount problem. Today, the two countries' legal systems keep diverging from each other. The prepared project of the Constitutional Act is neither rejected, nor adopted. Its future is uncertain. In the meantime, in the European Union the process for adopting the Union's Constitution has entered its final stage. However, within the Russian-Byelorussian Union state, there's no sufficient determination to continue its building; there're no fixed targets for Russian-Byelorussian relations, both countries' political elites have no coordinated standpoints with the regard to principles of the Union state structure (A.S. Autonomov , head of the sector, Institute of state and law, RAS).
It's rather a topical problem to assess the extent to which the idea of Russia-Byelorussia integration is favored among both peoples. The Russians still have a positive attitude towards Byelorussia, while in Byelorussia, the population's interest in the integration with Russia has radically decreased. If before, more that 70% of the population were backing the union with Russia, now in Byelarus, the dualism has manifested itself in everything relating to Belarus' strategic orientation. In public opinion, there's a split into two platforms, pro-Russian and pro-European, both backed by about the same number of adherents. Euro-integration platform has been assumed as an integral part of Byelorussian political elite's aspirations, while the credit of confidence towards Russia-Byelorussian integration has lost a considerable part of its confidence credit among the voters (prof. V. Shadursky, Deputy Dean of FMO Byelorussian state university (BSU), V. Snapkovsky, prof. FMO BSU, D.Polikanov, director for international and public relations, All-Russia Centre for research in public opinion (VCIOM), Oleg Bukhovets, prof. of Byelorussian State Economic University).
The Russian-Byelorussian relations develop under an active influence of external factors. World global processes, European integration, the EU's approach to the CIS boundaries, a new wave of NATO's expansion - all these relatively new and not totally explored factors stimulate both Russia and Byelorussia to choose their lines of conduct in the international affairs. Both countries are facing a dilemma as to how to launch their integration into Europe: either within the framework of the integration process, or on their own (Ruslan Grinberg, director IIEPS RAS, Boris Shmelyov, head of the Centre, IIEPS RAS). Now, there's no unique answer to this question. However, it's evident, that Russian-Byelorussian integration efforts have been unable to become a promoter of integration processes in the CIS space. Russia seems to have drawn two basic conclusions thereof: it rejected ambitious integration plans of building RBU and has staked on a new integration unification: Euro-Asian economic space consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Byelarus and Kazakhstan (A.Rusakovich, assistant professor FMO BSU).
The Round table participants have singled out new aspects of Byelorussia's international activities, reflected in strengthening of the Western vector of its foreign policy, adjustment of its relations with NATO, the EU, WTO. These problems were covered in the reports presented by A.Sharapo (Dean of FMO BSU), Prof. V. Dashichev (IIEPS RAS), prof. Yu. Brovka (FMO BSU), prof. A.Rosanov (FMO BSU), A. Plotnikov, expert of the State Duma, the RF Federal Assembly, N. Laktionova, senior researcher (IIEPS RAS). In spite of different standpoints as regards the targets of the post-Soviet and European integration, the Round Table participants expressed their unanimous desire to establish closer coordination of Russia's and Belorussia's foreign political efforts in security issues, conducting common policy with the regard to European structures, NATO, WTO.
Having conducted a complex analysis of the development of RF-Byelorussia integration process, the Round table participants have come to a conclusion that currently, building of a Union State has virtually no prospect for success, that the attempts to skip over integration stages, proceeding to consolidating financial systems, have proved both states' unwillingness to such a developed stage of the integration relations. The formerly declared Union of Russia and Belorussia, that wouldn't infringe upon any existing forms of both countries' statehood and anyhow limit its members' participation in other integration groupings, might become an optimal option for bilateral relations.

Irina Selivanova, Ph.D. (Hist.), IIEPS RAS

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