Following a five-hour meeting in Sochi, Putin and Lukashenka did not even reach out to journalists.
The book of the Russian political scientist Vyacheslav Inozemtsev, “An Unmodern Country: Russia in the World of the 21st Century,” opens with a preface written by political scientist Gleb Pavlovsky. I will cite his first paragraph: “When sailors brought tales of giraffes to Europe, scientists ridiculed these tales. They proved that the long-necked freak is just a non-viable deviation from the norm. But the giraffes are still alive.”
The so-called “Union State of Belarus and Russia” is an example of a political freak. If its viability is assessed according to modern criteria, then it would not have a chance to survive even the perinatal period (for the human fetus — the period from 22 full weeks of intrauterine life to the 7th day of extrauterine life). Nevertheless, on December 8, 2019, the freak turned 20 years old, and no matter how experts evaluated its state of health, it is alive and continues to generate informational reasons.
The anniversary was celebrated without champagne and ceremonial meetings. The signing of the in-depth integration program, scheduled for December 7, ended with a message about the next rapprochement of positions. As they say in such situations “the whistle took all the steam”. But we live not in the atomic, but in the information age, so the whistle should be considered as a worthy result of the efforts of Moscow and Minsk.
“Who are we with?”
The 20th century drew a line under the confrontation between liberalism and communism. At the heart of the future conflict, which is just beginning to form, is the struggle of the modern and non-modern worlds.
In this confrontation, the non-modern world has no resources for an active offensive. Its main task is not development, but survival. Accordingly, the successes of a non-modern world should be evaluated solely by survival criteria.
Perceiving the Western world as a “norm”, and everything outside its zone of influence as an “anomaly” is a big mistake. A westernized view of the world gives rise to an incorrect assessment of the condition of non-modern patients, many of whom are more likely alive than dead.
This statement can be extended to the “Union State” and its founders, whose geopolitical loneliness should not be surprising. “No matter how the Russian Federation tries to present itself as a global power,” Inozemtsev explains, “it remains rather weak economically and hardly attractive from the point of view of its social and political model. Moreover, it is busy “consolidating” the post-Soviet space (which no one else needs), preferring to ask the question “Who is with us and who is against us?” instead of asking itself “Who are we with?”, which seems much more rational and perspective today.”
The aphorism of Alexander III that “in the whole world we have only two faithful allies — the army and navy”, was born not from scratch. Even at the peak of its success, Russia remained lonely. Of course, if you don’t count allies from the subordinate by force and “kept” countries.
Lenin dreamed of overtaking and surpassing America, Putin – of overtaking and surpassing Portugal. But it did not work out. At some point Russia abandoned this idea. The role of the raw materials appendage of the developed world is the conscious choice of the elite. It is successful, judging by the number of Russians on the Forbes list. The elite is not responsible for the fact that every tenth Russian child studies at school, where the toilet is outside the building. There are no problems with toilets in Eaton and Oxford, therefore, the elite don’t have to worry about their children.
The Belarusian elite has not grown to the places on the Forbes list, but is getting some piece of the Russian pie. The struggle for this piece is the interest of Minsk in the integration with Russia.
The reason is obvious
The article in the SB Belarus Today newspaper devoted to the results of the talks in Sochi was published under the heading “Lukashenka to Putin: we are not asking for anything, just equal conditions”. Perhaps, one couldn’t have better formulated the interest of Belarus, mentioned above. As for the interest of Russia, it is stated by the following subtitle of the article: “Putin hopes that Belarus and Russia will receive significant benefits from integration”.
If we switch from the diplomatic language to the everyday language, it becomes clear that the expectations of the rulers of the “two parts of one folk” from the Union State do not coincide. It is pointless to look for the reasons for the mismatch in the personal characteristics of the rulers. They (reasons), as the teachers of Marxism-Leninism liked to emphasize, “are objective in nature”.
Non-modern Russia is kept in the state “the patient is more likely alive than dead” mainly due to natural rent. This conclusion is confirmed by the export structure for 2018: mineral products — 64.79%, metals and products from them — 9.88%; chemical industry products — 6.09%, food products and agricultural raw materials — 5.53%, machinery, equipment and vehicles — 5.13%, wood and pulp and paper products — 3.10%, precious metals and stones — 2,24%.
In 2018, the share of machinery, equipment and vehicles in the structure of Belarusian exports was three times higher — 16.4%, while mineral products, on the contrary, were almost three times lower — 25.8%. It should be borne in mind that 19.1% of exports were from petroleum products made from Russian oil.
Without equal conditions, i.e. without oil and gas supplies at domestic prices, the Belarusian model is unviable. Today it is clear, just like it was 20 years ago. Therefore, Lukashenka has nowhere to retreat. He has power behind him, and he is trying to cover the need to preserve it with talks of sovereignty and independence.
Putin has his own headache. It is one thing to lose Azerbaijan from the influence zone, but it is quite another thing to lose the land, to which Muscovy itself was historically a colony. Hence, such a painful reaction to Ukraine’s turn to the West, hence the “attraction of generosity” in relation to Belarus. The Kremlin spent almost USD 100 billion on over the past 15 years to keep Minsk in its orbit of influence.
I will quote Inozemtsev again: “The reason is obvious — without these territories, Russia ceases to be Russia, returning to Muscovy in the middle of the 17th century. This changes the whole structure of consciousness not only of the ruling elite, but also of a significant part of the population — and that is why the words of Russian politicians about the “sacred” role of Crimea, and even Kiev, are taken so seriously in the national worldview”.
A brief summary
The “Union State” is a form of extending the existence of two non-modern states in the modern world by non-modern methods. The “Union State” is not an event, it is a process unfolding in the form of permanent trade wars. They are irremovable, because the source of the discrepancy is the final goal: subsidies for Belarus, imperial ambitions for Russia.
Like the Siamese twins, the co-founders of the “Union State” cannot live without each other. Non-modernity is their common circulatory system, so any separation attempts will lead to the collapse of the co-founders.
It is possible that the collapse will fulfil the role of “creative destruction” (according to Schumpeter) and thereby open the way to the modern world. An alternative to collapse is slow degradation, which leaves no chance of being preserved in history.
Sergey Nikolyuk, specially for Belarus Security Blog