Belarusian GDP resumed its fall signalling of unresolved economic problems
In July 2016, GDP fell by 2.7%. Curtailed oil supply from Russia has demonstrated the Belarusian economy’s heavy dependence on the refinery. In the given circumstances, the Belarusian authorities have limited ability to influence the situation in the economy and are likely to wait for external factors to improve.
According to the National Statistics Committee, in January-July 2016 Belarus’ GDP declined by 2.7% compared to the same period in 2015. In H1 2016, GDP fell by 2.5%. Over the past five months, there was a consistent reduction in the GDP gap as compared with 2015. In January 2016, the decline in GDP was 4.4%. Only agriculture, mining and transport industries have demonstrated growth. Construction, wholesale and retail trade and industry have major negative impact on GDP.
In July 2016, GDP dynamics changed, which was due to several factors. Firstly, petroleum production fell sharply in July 2016, which was likely due to curtailed oil supplies from Russia, amid Belarus’ overdue debt for Russian gas. In addition, Belarus could no longer re-export Russian oil products as anti-oxidants, which had a negative impact on chemical production in the Vitebsk region.
Secondly, in July 2016, motor vehicles production reduced sharply. Finally, falling cash incomes of the population reinforced the negative trend in retail sale, where performance slumped in July 2016.
GDP fall in July 2016 implies that imbalances in the Belarusian economy have not disappeared. Exports remain poorly diversified; a list of major exports is limited; and any problems with the oil prices or reduced demand for oil, petroleum products or food industry lead to reduced production throughout the country. The fall in exports cannot be compensated with other exports due to their low specific weight in the foreign trade turnover. Sometimes Belarus benefits from her transit position and re-exports goods to Russia, but the latter has learned to reveal such schemes and to use them to apply pressure on Belarus where needed. That said, Belarus has limited opportunities to resume economic growth. As Belarus has no plans to improve the investment climate, she may only hope for external factors to improve.
Amid economic imbalances and the lack of desire to carry out structural economic reforms, the Belarusian authorities may only rely on external factors to improve, since their reserves to influence the economy are limited.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.