Saturday, January 22, 2022

Understanding a potential major buildout developing at Eurasian border

Asia has been witnessing a lot of geopolitical and economic transitions for quite some time. India’s emergence as a major global player, China’s rapid rise and interventions have been on everyone’s radar. It has become a hotbed of a lot of activities with Chinese origin Covid-19 bringing entire world to standstill. While India had reached out to nations across the globe with it’s VACCINE MAITRI, second wave has seen countries reaching out to help India. Amidst this there are some noteworthy developments at the western end of the continent.

On the world forum, though COVID-19 may be retaining the center stage, a very serious political buildout in the North, which is not so prominent in the news currently, may develop into something that might rule global media in the post COVID era. This development refers to talks and reports about the unification of Russia and Belarus. Belarus might even concur with such an idea, making it challenging for NATO or the U.S. to denounce it as a forced invasion. Moreover, this Russian expansion, if happens, could also regress the political stability in Europe.

Russia Belarus merger: When did it all begin?

It was in August 2011 that Russian President Vladimir Putin first very boldly voiced support for Russia to merge with Belarus, its neighbor in the West. Putin was then serving as the Prime Minister of Russia. “This is possible and very desirable… depends completely on the will of the Belarusian people,” Vladimir Putin had affirmed in response to a question from a young Belarussian who wondered whether both the states could merge to form one state like it was in the Soviet times. Belarus too has backed the proposition. ‘Belarus is ready to merge with Russia’, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko had said on the third and final day of his bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Feb 2019. The idea thus is not a new premise.

The baltic babysitting

A cluster of five states connect western Russia with the European Continent. These five nations are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Of these five, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania are together called the baltic nations because of their close proximity to the baltic sea. There was a time when these three nations were a part of the Soviet Union but today stand as active and important members of the NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) community.

These three baltic countries of Northern Europe have long been allies of the United States. The US always keeps its troops stationed in this region actively in order to tackle and act on any future invasion instantly. Thus, the region is of great strategic importance to the US. Now just next to the baltic countries, lies Belarus, which when merged with Russia, would sensitize situations for the US in the region.

Low hanging fruit for Russia

Merging with Belarus will give geopolitical pleasures to Russia. The world witnessed how aggressively Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014. This has been followed by Russia’s reckless meddling in Ukraine too which is the fifth nation connecting Russian land with the whole of Europe. This continuous Russian provoking has today ingrained war-like situations between both the states. Amid such exhaustion, an easy turn in by Belarus for the merger is low-hanging fruit for Russia.

Why Belarus is important?

One of its most valuable resources is Peat, which is used for fuel and fertilizer and also in the chemical industry. According to reports, the state also is rich in deposits of dolomite, phosphorite, clay, potassium, sand, rock salt, chalk, etc. One-third of the land here is covered with forest and the region actively produces timber, a type of wood that is processed into planks. Belarus was also ranked 53rd from 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index in 2018. It had also appeared in the group of states with “very high development”.

Russia and Belarus: Then and now

Belarus was part of the tsarist Russian Empire until 1917. When Germans withdrew from Belarus in 1919, the Bolsheviks took power and established the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus in 1919 and three years later, it became part of the USSR. Then, with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Russia and Belarus regained their national sovereignty. On July 10, 1994, Alexander Lukashenka was elected President of Belarus, who serves as the leader of the country even today. This is seldom considered the turning point in the process of the (re)integration of Belarus and Russia which may have happened due to the economic and systemic crisis of Belarus, its dependence on raw materials from Russia, Lukashenka’s election promises etc. At around this time, the world was also speculating that the countries of Central Europe and the Baltic States would seek membership in NATO, which was commonly regarded by the people of Russia and Belarus as a hostile Cold War alliance directed against them. This was also followed by the signing of the Treaty on the Friendship, Good Neighbourhood and Co-operation, between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus in 1995. The Treaty on Equal Rights of Citizens between Belarus and Russia was signed in December 1998, covering employment, and access to medical care and education. This was finally followed by the formation of the Union State, an organization consisting of Russia and Belarus that was formed on 8 December 1999.

Today, Russia and Belarus already share open borders giving their citizens full liberty to travel freely and take up employment in either country. Russia is also a major trade partner of Belarus. Russia accounts for more than 45 percent of the latter’s external trade. Both nations also share close military relations and actively engage in various joint military-scientific activities. Russia even operates several military bases and Radars in Belarus.

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