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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.