November 21, 2017
In 1991, as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union and following declaration of its independence, Belarus became a new independent state in Europe. Neighbouring states, and primarily the Russian Federation, became the main vectors of its foreign policy. At the same time Belarus realized that the European Union is definitely important for cooperation in trade and economic issues. Moreover, EU is a promising source of investment resources. One cannot fall into line with the fact that Belarus – EU relationships until recently resembled a rollercoaster. Despite the fact that the EU and Belarus have signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as early as in 1995, still it is not ratified by the EU. In addition, the European Union has excluded Belarus from its European neighbourhood policy (which was initially developed in order to define the “friend circle” in geographic proximity to the EU), making it a direct response to authoritarian Lukashenko’s regime. In their attempts to affect the Belorussian dictator the European Union has introduced sanctions against a number of Belarusian enterprises and individuals, however, at the end of 2015 the better part of them was terminated and on February 28, 2016 the EU decision on lifting sanctions against Belarus came into effect. It seems that amid the aggressive Russian foreign policy the EU has softened its stand towards Belarus seeking to gain an ally. In the meantime, Russia-Belarus relationships experience crisis, which has a number of causes. Border zone The Russian Federation and Belarus apply different visa rules. However, both states still have not developed a unified approach in this regard. The problem aggravated in 2017, when Minsk has repealed visas for nationals of 80 states at once, including the US and EU states. As for Russia, they still have visa regime with all of these states. Obviously, this decision strikes Moscow’s fancy, as the Russian part started from passport inspections on the flights from Minsk, and then the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation demanded to organize proper border control on the land boundaries. That was not adjusted with Belarus and Lukashenko has already accused Russia in violation of free border treaty. Black gold Belarus has oil refinery plants which critically need Russian oil for operation. The Russian Federation also benefits from oil supply to Belarus: primarily, that is sales market; secondly, that is the source of relatively cheap petrol and other oil products. In order to streamline the scheme, Russia agreed on abolishing export duties for the oil supplied to Belarus (furthermore, part of this oil turn back as petrol to Russia). However, Belarus exports petrol to the West and takes export duty in return. As the result, oil products come to Europe, Belorussian budget gain profits while Russia stays empty-handed being unsatisfied with such situation. Over the years, gas disputes between these two states obtained permanent nature: Belarus supposes Gazprom should supply gas to the allied state at the Russian domestic prices though gas monopolist does not agree with such position. Due to this early in 2017 Minsk declared the need to reduce oil supplies from Russia and set about finding alternative options. Food war Belarus is actively involved in exportation of the agricultural products to the Russian market taking significant fraction of the market which provokes dissatisfaction of Russian agrarians. Situation has been complicated after introduction of anti-sanctions by Russia as among other goods those under sanctions get on Russian market through the Belorussian territory. However, Minsk refused to introduce prohibition of importation similar to Russian. Late in January, 2017 the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance restrained the supplies from two Belorussian meat-packing factories: Moscow believes that prohibited Ukrainian beef gets on market under the pretence of Belorussian. In this regard this year on February 3 Lukashenko required initiation of a criminal case in relation to head of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Sergey Dankvert “for inflicting damage to the state”. What is next? It was repeatedly noticed that Belorussian foreign policy for the last decade is a shadow of former self. That is affirmed by the messages of Aleksandr Lukashenko which was usually pro-Russian and anti-Western; however, since 2014 Belorussian leader fell back on making overtures to Europe. Lukashenko did not support Russia in respect of Ukrainian issue. Moreover, he tried to appear an arbiter by organizing meeting on a peaceful settlement of the military conflict in Ukraine, for execution of Minsk agreements. According to many political analysts, the possible purpose of his regular visit was desire to use Ukraine to build the “bridge of friendship” with the EU and gather support for the occasion of aggravation of conflict with Russia. Meanwhile the Belarus leader has allowed Putin to organise the military manoeuvres “Zapad - 2017” (14-20 September 2017) with numeric Russian military commitment involved. However numerous observers from international organisations, particularly NATO, have been invited to warn negative reaction from EU on this military manoeuvres. It seems that Belarus leader continues to walk a delicate line between the East and the West and attempts gathering Europe’s support by all means. However, he is still not ready to make a full stop in relationships with a “big brother” (Russia). How long he will manage to keep this balance - time will show.
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