According to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia has suggested offering favorable oil deals in exchange for a unified state. For roughly two decades, Moscow and Minsk have been discussing the possibility of forming such a union, though with no success.
Recent developments have shown growing cracks in their relations.
Following the failure to agree on a new energy deal during a meeting between Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has reduced its oil exports to its neighboring state. In January 2020, Belarus had hoped for two million tonnes of crude oil for its refineries but received merely 500,000 tonnes.
In response, Lukashenko has threatened to siphon off Russian oil, destined to the European Union, which travels through Belarusian territory. In addition, the traditional ally of Russia has even engaged in talks with its neighbor Poland about possibly importing American and Saudi gas that arrives at Gdansk.
Simultaneously, Russia has been seeking to diversify its gas delivery routes to Europe. In addition to direct overland routes that include Ukraine and Belarus, the Kremlin has been developing NordStream 2 via the Baltic Sea as well as TurkStream across southern Europe.
Belarus is arguably Russia’s closest ally in Europe. Citizens of the two states can visit and live in each other countries without visas. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus largely retained its Soviet-era government structures, with its intelligence agency still called the KGB. During the Lukashenko-Putin era, their countries have maintained close economic relations, in the form of, for example, the Eurasian Economic Union; they also hold numerous joint military exercises.
Despite the existence of the Eurasian Economic Union there have been continued efforts to enact further integration. Key among these are issues relating to a shared common currency. However, progress has been slow.
The past few years have seen growing resistance from the Belarusian side. As early as 2010, Lukashenko lamented the withdrawal of Soviet-era nuclear weapons from his country, calling it a “major mistake.”
But what would a truly unified state look like?
This could take form in one of two ways. It could result in the incorporation and annexation of Belarus as a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. In some ways, this would mirror German reunification, which consisted of the East German Bundesländer (federal states) simply joining the existing West German state. The other alternative is that the two countries form an entirely new country with a new set of institutions.
In either scenario, however, Russia is all but certain to become the dominant part. On a security basis, it would ensure an increased buffer zone between NATO and non-Baltic Russia. Additionally, Russia would likely benefit from the immense industrial resources of Belarus. Unlike other post-Soviet republics, Belarus did not engage in large scale deindustrialization.
While the two countries already have a close military partnership, further integration could possibly pave the way for the creation of new military bases inside Belarus (During the 2010s, Belarus did convert some of its S-200 SAM launch sites in order to support S-300s.) This would mean that Poland could have Russian forces both to its east and west (at the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad) while Ukraine would now have an even longer border with Moscow.