Belarus and Russia were constituent republics of the Soviet Union and became independent in 1991, with the collapse of the USSR. Both countries were founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The traditionally close ties between Russia and Belarus and a relatively weak Belarusian national identity led to a drive toward reunification, which started already in the early 1990s. A preliminary agreement (which remained only on paper) on the establishment of a monetary union between Russia and Belarus was negotiated between the end of 1993 and 1994. While the two countries retained their own currencies, the integration process became high on the agenda after Alexander Lukashenko, a supporter of the "unification of all Slavic peoples," became the new president of Belarus in July 1994.
In April 1996 a "Treaty on Forming a Community" was signed by Lukashenko and Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation. The agreement promoted the coordination of the two countries' foreign and economic policies, created a Supreme Council and an Executive Committee of the community (both with little or no real powers), and led to the establishment of a Russia-Belarus parliamentary assembly. On April 2, 1997, Yeltsin and Lukashenko signed a second treaty establishing a union between Russia and Belarus and pledging further cooperation in the security and economic spheres, reiterating the final goal of creating a single currency. Yeltsin's resistance, however, prevented the two sides from defining concrete measures strengthening the integration between Russia and Belarus.
The 1996 and 1997 documents had little practical consequences. Russian reformers (some of them close to President Yeltsin) had a lukewarm attitude toward a possible confederation with an increasingly authoritarian Belarus. Another obstacle on the way of integration was the Russian authorities' concern that creating the union could encourage Russian ethnic republics to seek the same status as Belarus in the new confederation. In Russia the main advocates of integration with Belarus were chiefly found among the nationalists and communists, while the Belarusian opposition continued to regard with suspicion the creation of a Russia-Belarus Union (which for many had an old Soviet flavor).
In December 1998 Yeltsin and Lukashenko signed new treaties, including a declaration of unification where the two sides agreed to create in 1999 a union state with a single currency. However, in the following months Russia remained cautious about establishing a confederation with Belarus and opposed the creation of the post of a union president. After long negotiations a new union document was signed in December 1999. Once again, the agreement was of declaratory nature and this time set 2005 as the date for the currency union.
Since Vladimir Putin became Russian president in 2000 no other significant formal or concrete steps had been taken as of 2003 to lead the two countries toward some form of reunification. The Belarusian authoritarian regime and Soviet-style economy continued to represent serious obstacles for the integration of Belarus in a common state with Russia. In 2002 there was a crisis in the relations between the two countries, following Putin's proposals (rejected by Lukashenko) of de facto incorporating Belarus into the Russian Federation or, alternatively, of creating a form of chiefly economic integration based on the European Union model. Officially the Russia-Belarus monetary union remains scheduled to start in 2005, when Belarus is to adopt the Russian ruble as its legal currency.
See also: belarus and belarusians; commonwealth of independent states; lukashenko, alexander grigorievich
Drakokhrust, Yuri, and Furman, Dmitri. (2002). "Belarus and Russia: The Game of Virtual Integration." In Independent Belarus: Domestic Determinants, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for the West, eds. Margarita M. Balmaceda, James I. Clem, and Lisbeth L. Tarlow. Cambridge MA: Ukrainian Research In stitute, Davis Center for Russian Studies, Harvard University.
Marples, David R. (1999). Belarus: A Denationalized Nation. Amsterdam: Harwood.
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. (2003). "Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report. Previous Issues." <www.rferl.org/pbureport/archives.html>.