The Semi-Sovereign State: Belarus and the Russian Neo-Empire

Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 6, pp. 117-136, 2006

20 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2011

Date Written: October 25, 2011


States sometimes sacrifice sovereignty to other states. What can account for this seemingly irrational behavior? In analyzing Belarus’ membership in the Russia neo-empire, I find that four factors explain President Aleksandyr Lukashenka’s decision to sacrifice some sovereignty to Russia. The first and previously most ignored variable is the degree of relation-specific assets (RSAs), most notably fuel pipelines. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has attempted to ruthlessly force Lukashenka into acquiescing control over Belarus’ pipelines, Lukashenka has held firm, using an aggressive attacking campaign against Putin. This article uses process-tracing to demonstrate how a weak state’s leader can use RSAs to his advantage. In addition to the critical and underappreciated role of RSAs, weak nationalism and democratic norms, and Russia’s own strong interest in an economic hierarchy play an important role in explaining the current relationship between the two states. By using a rationalist analysis that incorporates norms as independent variables, I join several recent works that integrate rationalist and constructivist approaches.

Keywords: Russia, Belarus, empire, relation-specific assets, pipelines

JEL Classification: F00

Suggested Citation

Hancock, Kathleen J., The Semi-Sovereign State: Belarus and the Russian Neo-Empire (October 25, 2011). Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 6, pp. 117-136, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Kathleen J. Hancock (Contact Author)

Colorado School of Mines ( email )

Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
1005 14th Street
Golden, CO 80401
United States
303-384-2407 (Phone)

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