New round of confrontation between Moscow and Minsk over air traffic
The Ministry of Transport of Russia, as of April 13, banned the Belarusian airline Belavia from operating in all regions of Russia, except Moscow. Previously Belavia also performed flights to St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, and planned to start flying to Novosibirsk in June.
Therefore the conflict of the past week broke out with renewed vigor. Belarus insisted on parity of traffic en route Minsk - Moscow, performed by the Belarusian and Russian companies and refused to allow the Russian airlines to open the fifth flight (both airlines carry out four daily flights each between Minsk and Moscow). In response the Russian airline decided to interpret the parity broadly and withdrew the Belavia’s authorization to fly to Russian regions (because Russian companies do not operate flights to the Belarusian regions), regardless of the formal grounds for revocation of authorization - gross violations of safety regulations, lack of insurance, etc.
This confrontation is a good illustration of unpreparedness of Belarus for an open competition with Russian companies within the common economic space. Russian companies, being more modern and financially stronger offer better services to passengers. Belarus strongly resists such competition and opening of its market.
Regardless of the outcome of the conflict, it is safe to assume that such conflicts will emerge again and again in various fields. Belarus has benefited from the integration within the CES with lower prices for fuel and energy resources, with this Russia’s understanding of the integration ends. Russia traded off profits in the energy sector and wants to promote its interests in other sectors - banking, insurance, engineering, food processing, etc., but it faces with constant attempts of Belarus to protect and to close its market. With the end of the Putin’s election campaign, Russian “raiding” activities (as they are referred to in Belarus) will intensify, often disregarding the law and previous agreements. Actions of Russian companies will be accompanied by media campaigns. Therefore the Belarusian authorities should prepare for new episodes of TV series in the spirit of “The Godbatka” [«Крестный батька»].
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.