Chapter 7: Belarus: player and pawn in the integration game
Belarus is the smallest member of the tripartite Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) in terms of population, territory and economy. It has unfailingly participated in the Russia-led initiatives to foster economic integration in the post-Soviet space, alongside what is on paper the most ambitious integration project in Eurasia: the Union State of Russia and Belarus (USRB). Aleksander Lukashenko, ensconced as Belarusian president since 1994, has portrayed himself as a leading proponent of close integration while making it clear he views Belarus as an equal partner in bodies, not a subservient member. The involvement of Belarus regional in the ECU and Single Economic Space (SES) is not unexpected, although Minsk has not been uncritical of the projects. As this chapter will argue, the reason behind the country’s participation cannot simply be attributed to blind loyalty to its powerful neighbour to the east, Russia. Minsk has vigorously pursued its own agenda regarding Eurasian integra- tion, albeit with varying degrees of success. This chapter begins by examining the drivers for and the motivation behind the Belarusian leadership’s engagement with regional integration projects. It is argued that the primary goal has not been integration per se, but rather securing beneficial deals from Russia, in particular on the energy front. Minsk has taken a highly instrumental approach, with integration traditionally exploited as a means to an end, rather than a goal in itself.
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