Air war between Russia and Belarus
Airline flights between Minsk and Moscow stopped for four hours on March 26, as \"Rosaviatsia\" had recalled previously issued permission to travel to the Belarusian airline \"Belavia\".
After several hours of negotiations, the parties took time-out until 29 February. As a result of the meeting, held in Moscow on March 29, the airlines of Russia and Belarus will continue to operate under the old schedule of submitted applications until the May 10, 2012. During this time, negotiations will continue. Thus, albeit for a few hours, a new trade war in the CES took place.
Until March 26, when the conflict broke out, Aeroflot had served three flights daily from Moscow to Minsk, and the Russian company UTair had served one flight. The total number of hours per week for Russian companies was 28; the Belarusian national carrier Belavia had the same number of hours. Yet last year the Russian airline S7 Airlines was appointed to this line. For a number of reasons it could only begin flights in the new summer season, which started on 26 March. But with access to the route of S7 Airlines, Russia has obtained an additional, fifth, frequency, and the total number of hours increased to 35.
Belavia has seen the parity violation of the frequency agreements in the actions of the Russian side. As a result, \"Aeroflot\" was refused to coordinate one of the flights. And the aeronautical authorities of Russia, of course, had to defend the interests of \"Aeroflot\" by revoking Belavia’s permission to fly.
The basis for the conflict is purely commercial. Tickets of the Russian carriers are cheaper, with only 55% of the load, Belavia fears further reduction of the number of passengers. However, due to the limited number of aircraft and financial resources, it cannot increase the number or frequency of flights, insisting on parity.
At the same time, lower prices of the international carriers are often explained by the \"wholesale\" sales of services. We are talking about passengers flying from Minsk not to Moscow, but via Moscow to countries where Belavia planes do not or cannot fly. In fact, the lower prices of Russian carriers are one way of competing for transit passengers –not only with Belavia, but with transnational airlines. With this organization of passenger traffic, air travel is quite a natural desire of Russian airlines to increase frequencies. So, apparently, they are not concerned about the utilization of flights on the level of 55%.
It should be recalled that equality demanded by the Belarusian side has become a cause of conflicts with European and Turkish airlines. Since Belarus does not have such a close economic and political integration with the European Union and Turkey compared to Russia, the Belarusian side has always gained victory in previous wars, using a powerful \"administrative\" weapon. Experts point out one interesting detail concerning the aspirations of the Russian side to achieve liberalization of air transport to Belarus: Belarus raises exactly the same arguments to protect its own market, which Russia uses in negotiations with the EU. Russia is not ready to compete with the EU in the open sky.
Thus, in anticipation of the holiday season, the partner countries are advocating the interests of their big companies, trying to use ultimatums and administrative resources. The interests of the population, who could have cheaper tickets and more convenient connections to remote destinations, have been sacrificed in this battle.
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.