Putin Wants to Reunite Belarus and South Ossetia with Russia
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has never concealed his opinion that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a tragedy and he would look like to put at least parts of Humpty together again. Apparently he also believes that it will be a popular issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. This is especially true if the targets of the Slavic regions in the former USSR or territories populated by a large percentage of ethnic Russians.
Speaking to a youth forum on Monday, Putin expressed his hope that Belarus, South Ossetia could form a common state. This would depend entirely on the will of the people of Belarus. In Minsk the Belarus Foreign Ministry declined comment but emphasized Vladimir Putin's pledge that such a decision would depend on the wishes of the people of Belarus.
Russia has backed the "independence" of South Ossetia and has recognized the breakaway region as an independent state after engaging in a short war with Georgia when the latter attempted to reimpose its authority. To back Putin's intentions Russia's electoral commission closely controlled by Putin appointees will station ballot boxes at Russian military bases in South Ossetia allowing the residents to vote in next year's Russian parliamentary and presidential elections.
The same will apply to another breakaway region-- Abkhazia. While both these regions are "independent states" according to Moscow its citizens have the option of receiving a Russian passport and many have availed themselves of the opportunity. Both the ballot boxes and the passports could help legitimize a creeping annexation.
The main lever that Russia has over Belarus is the price of energy. Alexander Lukashenko, referred to as Europe's last dictator, told reporters that Belarus, should it be incorporated into Russia, would pay the same amount for Russian natural gas as did residents in Russia's adjoining province of Smolensk (it would be a lot cheaper).
Lukashenko, however, was confident that the people of Belarus would preserve their independence and refuse absorption by Russia or EU membership "on conditions similar to those set once for the Baltic states." This was a reference to the Soviet Union's annexation of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1940. These countries, as a result of Soviet military pressure, became Soviet republics till the disintegration of the USSR.
Likewise, in Southern Ossetia, the reaction was muted and the watchword was integration rather than unification and a desire to preserve an independent status.
Alexander Lukashenko is hardly the person who concerns himself with the popular will. Lukashenko concerns himself with the well-being of the Lukashenko. Union with Russia means that Minsk becomes subordinate to Moscow. Putin and company have a penchant for centralization, and leaders with an independent local power base soon find themselves removed.
Lukashenko would prefer to remain a big frog in his little pond rather than croak politically in the big Russian pond.