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.
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.