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Belarus

 

The final group of countries that obtained independence as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union is of special importance for Russia. It includes Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. The former Soviet republic of Moldova can also be considered within this group.  

The disintegration of the Communist state resulted in a dramatic division of the three East Slavic peoples Russians, Belorussians, and Ukrainians which have for centuries lived in one state united by their common ethnic roots, history, culture, and close economic ties. Their similar cultural, historical, and geopolitical characteristics notwithstanding, the members of this group do not have the same political leanings, and their attitude to Russia as the historic heartland of the East Slavic lands is far from uniform.

Belarus has been the first country in the group to overcome its largely artificial separation from Russia and forge a closer alliance with its Slavic sister nation. The two countries are gradually reconstituting a single economic, sociocultural, and military-strategic space. Belarus' "economic miracle" under Alexander  Lukashenka has been largely subsidized by the Russian economy, including low energy prices.  

Belarus is the only republic on the western fringes of the former Soviet territories that does not seek NATO membership. A union with Belarus thus improves Russias geopolitical situation in the west, where it now borders mostly on countries that have joined or are gravitating toward the North Atlantic Alliance.

In 2001, President Putin advanced the idea of forming a union with Belarus on the European Union model. However, Lukashenka has rejected all serious integrationist measures (such as, for instance, common currency) and any steps that could lead to "sharing sovereignty." The recent (December 2006) gas price dispute between the two countries shows that Russia seeks to use its economic levers more effectively to project its influence in Belarus.

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