Eurasian Integration of Belarus as Path-Dependence

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There is a tendency to explain all the problems and choices made by the Republic of Belarus as a result of the policy of its leadership. This text offers a take on choices made by Belarus in favor of preserving and strengthening relations with Russia through the prism of the concept of path-dependence. Simply said, economic, social, and political circumstances determine the vector of development of the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as they frame and transform president Lukashenka's intentions. Thus, country's participation in the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union is a predictable step in a chain of interconnected choices that the Belarusian political elite have been making since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Special attention in the text is paid to what the analysis of the Belarusian case can tell about the nature and prospects of integration in the region.

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A peculiar model of post-communist political economy has evolved in Belarus under President Aliaksandr Lukashenka. It features prioritisation of non-entrepreneurial social groups, a strong role for the state, and extensive social security provision. The model appears to be grounded on Lukashenka's understanding of his political powerbase; having no external backing for his policies, he wants to command as wide grass-roots support as possible to remain in office. By doing so, he rejects the principles of pluralist democracy and market economy, making Belarus's political economy model quite different from that envisaged in the mainstream post-communist theories of neo-liberalism and gradualism.
Since the presidential elections in 2012 Russian foreign policy has experienced significant changes. The Russian leadership has really attempted to shape one of the poles of the multipolar world around Russia and to achieve strategic parity with the United States. These changes have been the result of several domestic and international circumstances. One of the outcomes of the new foreign policy has been confrontation with the West (the Ukraine crisis, sanctions and restrictions etc.). The attempt to countervail the losses in the West by turning to the Asia-Pacific region has only been partially successful. The new foreign policy has received the support of the popular majority and will not be changed in the near future.
Russia's transition to a market economy has been tortuous to say the least. However, this book argues that the arguments and counter-arguments that pitch shock therapy against gradualism are wide of the mark and quite pointless. Indeed, the reasons for the warped outcomes can actually be traced back through the long sweep of Russian history. Decisions made in the distant past can fully influence policy-making in the present. Hedlund's thesis can, like this, be seen as influenced by the 'path dependency' theories of Paul David among others.
The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) appeared in January 2015 as the latest and most ambitious attempt at reconnecting the post-Soviet space. Building on the Customs Union between Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan (2010), and successfully extending membership to Armenia and Kyrgyzstan (2015), the EAEU not only connects a market of over 182 million people, but has the stated aim of utilizing European Union experience to achieve deep integration in a fraction of the time. Based on original fieldwork conducted in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia, this article examines the kind of integration project currently under construction, as well as the EAEU’s ability to make a significant impact in the region. As argued, despite early achievements, the EAEU is very much limited to reproducing sovereignty rather than transforming it, marking a clear disconnect between rhetoric and reality. Moreover, when viewed from the perspective of the three “I”s – institutions, identity, and international context – even this modest reality faces significant barriers.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association and at a Conference on ‘What is Institutionalism Now?’ at the University of Maryland, October 1994. We would like to acknowledge the hospitality and stimulation that W. Richard Scott, the Stanford Center for Organizations Research, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences provided while the preliminary work for this paper was being done, and we are grateful to Paul Pierson for many helpful discussions about these issues. For written comments on this earlier draft, we are grateful to Robert Bates, Paul DiMaggio, Frank Dobbin, James Ennis, Barbara Geddes, Peter Gourevitch, Ian Lustick, Cathie Jo Martin, Lisa Martin, Paul Pierson, Mark Pollack, Bo Rothstein, Kenneth Shepsle, Rogers Smith, Marc Smyrl, Barry Weingast, and Deborah Yashar.
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