‘Tighter integration than the EU’ Details leak about new economic unification of Russia and Belarus
The newspaper Kommersant has published the first details of a Russian-Belarusian economic integration agreement signed by the two countries’ prime ministers on September 6. Neither Moscow nor Minsk has yet published the document officially, but a source in the Russian government confirms that Kommersant obtained a copy of the text.
The agreement proposes a partial unification of the Russian and Belarusian economies after 2021, and the main feature would be the development of a single tax code. Additionally, the document proposes unified customs and energy policies, including the creation of shared regulators for the gas, oil, oil-products, and electricity markets.
The economic ministries in Russia and Belarus plan to create uniform regulatory standards for industrial and antitrust policies, agricultural markets, transport, and communications. The deal will also introduce shared access to public procurement and a unified system of property accounting, and possibly the unification of both countries’ civil codes.
The agreement states that the central banks and Russia and Belarus should work according to the same general principles of banking and financial supervision after 2021 (though Kommersant points out that the deal doesn’t mention a single issuing bank or shared currency). Moscow and Minsk also agreed to settle on uniform rules for observing “special economic measures” — apparently referring to Russian counter-sanctions against the West, which Belarus has been suspected of violating.
After June 2020, both countries will end mutual cell-phone roaming charges. After June 2022, Russia and Belarus will implement a “coordinated policy” in the labor market and social-protection sphere, converging their levels of state benefits.
The agreement doesn’t mention national defense, state security, the courts, law enforcement, education, healthcare, science, or the internal structure of the executive branch in Russia or Belarus.
Kommersant calls the integration program “a thoroughly radical project” that proposes a degree of integration greater in many ways that the European Union. On a number of issues, the newspaper says, the agreement compares to a confederation or even federation of states. At the same time, the integration is unlikely to be even: the Russian economy is 29 times bigger and its regulatory infrastructure is far better developed, which makes it likely that Belarus will simply adopt Russian standards. Kommersant stresses that the program stops well short of unifying the two countries, and deals exclusively with economic integration.
Almost 20 years ago, back in 1999, Russia and Belarus first established the Union State, which allows citizens to move freely between the two countries, with equal rights to work and social benefits. In other areas, however, the Union State has remained a decorative structure. In late 2018, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev renewed talks about full integration, during a dispute between Russia and Belarus about the price of Russian oil. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko previously proposed that Moscow and Minsk adopt a new integration program before the Union State’s 20th anniversary in December 2019. Lukashenko has emphasized, however, that Belarus’s inclusion in the Russian Federation isn’t on the table, and he says President Putin has never broached the issue with him.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock