The on-again/off-again love affair between Russia and Belarus, which, theoretically at least, is supposed to culminate in the unification of the two countries, has hit one of its periodic snags. Recently, Vasil Bykov, famous Belarusian writer and opponent of that country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, died at the age of 79. At his funeral, Pavel Selin, a Russian correspondent with NTV, used the opportunity to make negative comments about Lukashenko. Shortly thereafter, he was booted out of the country, allegedly on the instigation of Lukashenko himself, and his journalistic credentials revoked.
Lukashenko, who has never been known for a staunch anti-Russian policy, then went as far as to accuse Moscow of mounting an information war against his country. He also decided to delay signing a measure that would allow the Russian ruble to be used in Belarus in non-cash transactions, saying it could undermine Belarus' sovereignty. In other words, things do not look rosy for the future of the Russian-Belarusian Union, at least in the short term.
Unfortunately, though one is loath to express much sympathy for the Belarusian president, he does have something of a point. NTV is now a state-owned and -operated television station, and it and other such Russian media outlets do tend to take an anti-Lukashenko slant, probably because someone in the Kremlin has an axe to grind. This is more than likely on account of his refusal to consent to a merger of Russian and Belarus on Russia's terms — Moscow has offered either a loose confederation like that characterizing relationships between the member states of the European Union or assimilation of Belarus into Russia as just another region, while Minsk insists on retaining full partnership, despite the overwhelming disproportion between the two countries in GDP, population and just about every other sphere. Clearly, the latter option is untenable.
Lukashenko, having already isolated himself from the West, is now blocking himself off from Russia. If he keeps going at this rate, a Turkmen-Belarusian Union may be his only way out, and he can have a giant statue of himself set up in the center of Minsk like the one Turkmen President Turkmenbashi has in Ashgabat (better yet, he can one-up the so-called "Father of the Turkmen" and name not only the months, but the days, after things Lukashenko-related).
The Russian-Belarusian Union is a good idea in principle. After all, some sort of merger between the states is supported by an overwhelming majority of the populations of both countries. It is also hard to argue that there should not be closer integration between the various former Soviet republics in general — at this point, only extreme nationalists in countries such as Ukraine seriously argue that distancing themselves from Moscow is in their interest. It is very likely that, at some point in the future, however far off, the countries of Eurasia will form some of integrated economic and political space — a European Union of Eurasia, if you will — and the sooner, the better.
But Lukashenko, as things stand, is not a leader who is likely to make this possible. Instead, in addition to running an autocratic state at home (though, to be fair, nothing like what we see in Central Asia), he has subverted the idea of the union to his own desire for personal power in a reunited Russia and Belarus. He seems to want the power of a position in the government of the largest country in the world, not the interests of his people, at heart.
It may be bad form for the Russian government to mess around painting the leader of a foreign country black, but, in the case of Lukashenko, you can hardly blame them. After all, he has already done a pretty good job of doing it himself.