Putin eyes annexing Belarus to maintain power

Russian President Vladimir Putin has held the reins of power since 2000. After being constitutionally limited to two terms as president, he became prime minister in 2008 with Dmitry Medvedev serving as as figurehead president.

Medvedev was not as pliant a puppet as Putin would have liked, so he assumed the top spot again in 2012. But the Russian autocrat has a problem. Once again, he is facing term limits - he began his second term last year. How will he maintain his power after his constitutionally limited term ends?

Speculation in Moscow is that Putin could be planning to annex the tiny Russian neighbor Belarus, run for president there, and then rule his empire from Minsk.

NZ Herald:

Russian media has speculated in recent months that Moscow is seeking to establish a unified state with ex-Soviet Belarus.

A new "superstate" would require a new leader — potentially creating a powerful new position.

Such a position would be ideal for Putin to side-step into when he reaches his constitutional limit as Russian president in 2024.

And Putin's not making much effort in conceal his intentions.

In December, Russia's largely irrelevant Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready for closer integration with Belarus.

According to him, this would include a common currency, shared customs services and courts. He said this was in line with a 1999 agreement to create a "union state."

That agreement, signed by both Lukashenko and Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, outlines a full federation, including a new common flag, national symbols and a unified judiciary.

The agreement outlines a Supreme State Council run by the presidents of each nation on a rotating basis … "unless the states agree otherwise".

And that's the out Putin needs.

It would entail the constitutional 'reset' Putin needs to remain top dog.

This is typical of Putin; brazen, clever, devious, and, by the way, a violation of established norms between states. 

And what about Belarus? Don't they have a say in this?

Lukashenko, who has been visiting Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi since Wednesday, stressed the importance of his country's independence.

"Why would we bring up questions of the sovereignty of Russia and Belarus? It is like an icon, it is sacred," Lukashenko bravely told a largely state-run press pack while standing next to Putin.

"We have no problems with sovereignty, we did not even discuss it in this context," Lukashenko said.

Moscow's takeover of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine in 2014 sent shivers through Belarus.

Talks of Moscow pressure intensified after a recent oil tax change by Russia that could cost Belarus more than $10 billion by 2024.

And Lukashenko has previously accused Russia of seeking to blackmail Belarus into deeper integration.

But Belarus is already too beholden to Russian influence that he couldn't outright reject Putin's plan. So Lukashenko may have been attempting to buy time by saying the two countries were ready to "revise" their relations.

The reality is, Lukashenko won't have a choice - any more than Georgia or Crimea had a choice. When Adolf Hitler effected the Anschluss - the reunification of Austria and Germany - the Nazi dictator didn't bother with formalities. He simply marched his troops into the center of Vienna and took over.

You can bet that Lukashenko knows that history and fears something similar. 

The west better get used to the fact that the only way Putin will give up power is when he's six feet under. Even then, the leadership precedent he has established for Russia will survive him long into the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has held the reins of power since 2000. After being constitutionally limited to two terms as president, he became prime minister in 2008 with Dmitry Medvedev serving as as figurehead president.

Medvedev was not as pliant a puppet as Putin would have liked, so he assumed the top spot again in 2012. But the Russian autocrat has a problem. Once again, he is facing term limits - he began his second term last year. How will he maintain his power after his constitutionally limited term ends?

Speculation in Moscow is that Putin could be planning to annex the tiny Russian neighbor Belarus, run for president there, and then rule his empire from Minsk.

NZ Herald:

Russian media has speculated in recent months that Moscow is seeking to establish a unified state with ex-Soviet Belarus.

A new "superstate" would require a new leader — potentially creating a powerful new position.

Such a position would be ideal for Putin to side-step into when he reaches his constitutional limit as Russian president in 2024.

And Putin's not making much effort in conceal his intentions.

In December, Russia's largely irrelevant Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was ready for closer integration with Belarus.

According to him, this would include a common currency, shared customs services and courts. He said this was in line with a 1999 agreement to create a "union state."

That agreement, signed by both Lukashenko and Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, outlines a full federation, including a new common flag, national symbols and a unified judiciary.

The agreement outlines a Supreme State Council run by the presidents of each nation on a rotating basis … "unless the states agree otherwise".

And that's the out Putin needs.

It would entail the constitutional 'reset' Putin needs to remain top dog.

This is typical of Putin; brazen, clever, devious, and, by the way, a violation of established norms between states. 

And what about Belarus? Don't they have a say in this?

Lukashenko, who has been visiting Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi since Wednesday, stressed the importance of his country's independence.

"Why would we bring up questions of the sovereignty of Russia and Belarus? It is like an icon, it is sacred," Lukashenko bravely told a largely state-run press pack while standing next to Putin.

"We have no problems with sovereignty, we did not even discuss it in this context," Lukashenko said.

Moscow's takeover of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine in 2014 sent shivers through Belarus.

Talks of Moscow pressure intensified after a recent oil tax change by Russia that could cost Belarus more than $10 billion by 2024.

And Lukashenko has previously accused Russia of seeking to blackmail Belarus into deeper integration.

But Belarus is already too beholden to Russian influence that he couldn't outright reject Putin's plan. So Lukashenko may have been attempting to buy time by saying the two countries were ready to "revise" their relations.

The reality is, Lukashenko won't have a choice - any more than Georgia or Crimea had a choice. When Adolf Hitler effected the Anschluss - the reunification of Austria and Germany - the Nazi dictator didn't bother with formalities. He simply marched his troops into the center of Vienna and took over.

You can bet that Lukashenko knows that history and fears something similar. 

The west better get used to the fact that the only way Putin will give up power is when he's six feet under. Even then, the leadership precedent he has established for Russia will survive him long into the future.