Minsk is concerned about Moscow's unilateral revision of relations with EEU partners
Due to enhanced competition on the narrowing Eurasian market, Moscow is unilaterally revising relations with Minsk. Minsk is attempting to defend its interests using contacts in Russian regions and through EEU mechanisms. Russia is likely to seek compensation for its financial and economic losses by reducing benefits for her partners in the Eurasian integration, including Belarus, regardless of bilateral agreements within the Union State framework and multilateral agreements within the EEU.
The Belarusian State Standardization Committee’s press service announced that the non-acceptance by the Russian Federal Customs Service of the certificates and declarations from the EEU member states required a prompt decision.
Russia is reluctant to enable her EEU partners to gain access to the shrinking Russian market. Quite the opposite, protectionism and defending own business interests have enhanced among the EEU partners.
Despite the fact that the oil and gas dispute between Belarus and Russia has been resolved and Minsk signed the EEU Customs Code, the new tension is rising in Russo-Belarusian bilateral relations related to the refusal of the Russian FCS to recognise certificates and declarations from other EEU states, including Belarus. In addition, tension over foodstuffs supply between Minsk and Moscow remains high. Rosselkhoznadzor has not lifted restrictions on the some foodstuffs supply from Belarus and carried on with the information campaign in the Russian media. For instance, Russian Izvestia newspaper recently wrote about the possible re-export by Belarus of large volumes of Turkish tomatoes. Due to Belarus’ refusal to privatise MAZ in favour of Russian KAMAZ, Belarusian manufacturers continue to lose the Russian market.
The Belarusian president has used his contacts in the Russian regions to channel his claims vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Apparently, he has realised that relations with the Kremlin based on the ‘brotherly’ integration rhetoric have ended. While meeting with Rostov region Governor Golubev, President Lukashenka urged to create conditions for fair competition between Belarusian and Russian partners.
Overall, regardless of the formal rapprochement among the EEU states, there are some contradictory trends in the economic relations among them and enhanced disintegration processes.
Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.
The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.
According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.
Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.
Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.