Russia wants to limit schemes bypassing food embargo
Russia’s embargo on some foodstuffs from the EU has created favourable conditions for some alternative delivery routes through Belarus. One of the most popular schemes is processing imported raw materials at Belarusian enterprises and exporting the processed products to Russia. Russia is unable to block the re-export entirely, however, she suggests measures to Belarus to increase control over such supplies.
Rosselkhoznadzor may impose restrictions on the supply of dairy and fish products from several enterprises in Belarus.
Russia’s embargo on meat, dairy, fish, fruit and vegetables from the EU has created opportunities for the countries not on the sanctions list to increase their supplies to Russia. For instance, lettuce grown in the Netherlands was imported to Russia as if originating from Israel. Polish apples were imported as originating from Serbia and Macedonia. Fruits from Moldova were listed in the documents as grown in Belarus. The embargo has also boosted exporters’ profits. Prices for fruits and vegetables in the EU have dropped, and have gone up in Russia.
In Belarus, schemes bypassing Russia’s food embargo are as follows. A Belarusian company or a joint venture imports raw materials to Belarus. After processing them, Belarus is listed as the country of origin in the documents. Later, such products may be exported to Russia without any restrictions. Processing might imply something very simple. For instance, chilled and frozen fish from Norway could be put in vacuum packaging and legally exported to Russia as made in Belarus. In the first two weeks of September, Belarus more than doubled her fish imports from Norway compared with July (before the embargo was introduced). Belarus has also increased imports of raw milk from Poland and Lithuania in order to meet domestic market needs after exports of butter and cheese to Russia increased.
Various schemes bypassing Russia’s food embargo may only be stopped if Russia and Belarus introduce border customs control, which would contradict the Eurasian Union integration agreements. The only way for Russia to reduce re-imports from Belarus is to introduce harsh sanitary control over imported products. Russia has already used similar measures in the past during the “milk wars” with Belarus. Russia hinted she might introduce restrictions on imports from certain Belarusian enterprises thus prompting Belarus to self-restrictions and self-regulations. Russia may turn a blind eye if imports from Belarus increase by 20%-30%; but if imports from Belarus grew exponentially, she would introduce harsh quality controls and return supplies to Belarus on formal grounds.
Since Russia’ embargo on foodstuffs from the EU could be a short-term measure, Belarus attempts to gain the maximum benefit from her membership in the Customs Union. Russia will not completely ban re-export schemes, but will limit their scope with administrative means.
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.