'Brotherhood of Slav peoples' Reintegration: Pact with Belarus is only first step in Russia's efforts to patch-up splintered Soviet empire.


WITH A MIXTURE of horror and fascination, several former Soviet republics have been watching as Western Europe's twin pushes toward closer integration: through today's adoption of the euro common currency and through the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Cut off from those efforts, Russia has launched a concentrated drive toward "reinforcing the brotherhood of Slav peoples," as Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov put it. Recently, this effort has produced two important symbolic results: Moscow concluded a union pact with Belarus, which is in even worse economic shape than Russia. And it ratified a long-delayed friendship treaty with Ukraine.

For now, though, enticing Ukraine back into Moscow's fold is a pipe dream. Significantly, the friendship treaty reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the second largest constituent republic of the old Soviet Union.

Specifics of the contemplated union of Russia and Belarus are vague, although it is known that each country would have its own president while a two-house parliament would enact laws for the union.

Reintegration with Russia -- as a first step toward recreation of the former Soviet empire -- has long been the dream of Belarus' erratic president, Alexander Lukashenko. His critics worry that Mr. Lukashenko might use the union as a means to try to succeed President Boris N. Yeltsin, but such a scenario seems both unrealistic and far-fetched.

"A brotherhood of Slav peoples" is a goal shared by many Russians. Communists support it. So do fervent anti-communists who see it as a way of regaining their nation's imperial glory. Current economic and political conditions in Russia and other former Soviet republics, however, are so desperate that it is difficult to see how any meaningful reintegration efforts can bring early results.

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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