Minsk less interested in signing Eurasian Economic Community Agreements
Official Minsk is losing interest in the Eurasian Economic Community project. For Belarus, the cost of further integration with Russia is rising, as there is no progress in removing restrictions on oil, and Belarus’ sovereignty is threatened in view of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Belarus’ government is likely to sign the agreements to establish the EEC; however, it may sabotage the commitments it will assume within the Eurasian integration project.
President Vladimir Putin phoned President Alexander Lukashenko to discuss the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council’s meeting agenda.
The main topic during the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council’s meeting in late April will be the harmonisation of the draft agreement to establish the Eurasian Economic Community. Previously, presidents of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan had agreed to sign the EEC founding treaty in May this year. However, so far, the ‘troika’ has not elaborated a common vision of how the Eurasian integration project should develop.
To date, the parties have not reached a compromise about several conflicting issues, mainly about trade exemptions. It is worth noting that the draft of the EEC founding treaty has not changed since October 2013, and, that the draft is 70-80% ready, according to Lukashenko. Belarus’ Prime Minister Myasnikovich emphasised that there was a lack of progress regarding the most sensitive issues for Belarus: “Belarus expresses great concern about the agreement [again] turning out to have a lot of exceptions and limitations”.
The document has not yet been finalised, also because the parties had additional conflicting requirements while negotiating specific issues. For example, Kazakhstan has refused to negotiate the provision related to scientific and technological cooperation with Belarus and Russia.
Meanwhile, Belarus has participated in all the Kremlin-led integration projects, drawing short-term benefits from such cooperation in the form of Russian subsidies to Belarus’ economy. Today, however, Moscow is not ready to give Belarus additional bonuses for joining the Eurasian Union.
Belarusian leadership insists on abolishing oil exemptions, which should bring an additional USD 3-4 bln to the Belarusian budget. Given the presidential elections in Belarus in 2015, the decision about abolishing oil exemptions will soon become a crucial one for President Lukashenko. Meanwhile, even if Russia abolishes oil exemptions, she has envisaged additional ‘compensatory’ measures, which will not allow Belarus to get the desired budgetary proceeds at the expense of Russian oil.
Belarus is beginning to demonstrate her ‘cooling off’ as regards the Kremlin’s Eurasian integration project. According to the Belarusian president’s press service, the conversation between Putin and Lukashenko “was initiated by the Russian side”, not by Belarus, despite her great interest in lifting oil restrictions.
In addition, the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine have demonstrated to the authorities in Minsk the high risks that come with the Eurasian integration. Belarusian leadership is concerned about the Kremlin increasing the pressure to finalise the Eurasian integration, if the international community introduces serious economic sanctions against Russia.
Belarus will sign the EEC founding treaty as she has promised; however, this will not necessarily imply that she will comply with her commitments in this regard.
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.