Minsk loses its position vis-à-vis Moscow
Vladislav Baumgertner, Uralkali’s CEO is in a Moscow jail after he was extradited from Belarus where he spent almost three months under arrest.
The resolution of the ‘potash’ conflict’ did not strengthen Belarus’ position in relations with the Kremlin. While Belarus has scored some publicity benefits, it has also suffered heavy economic losses. President Lukashenko has not only reduced his leverage on the Kremlin, but has ramped up Belarus’ dependence on Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pointedly was not publicly involved in the ‘potash’ conflict resolution. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have considered the recommendations of Russian President Assistant Yury Ushakov and have extradited Uralkali’s CEO “before November-end”.
The ‘potash’ conflict culminated in compromises by both parties. Kerimov has sold his stake in Uralkali (or pretend to sell), and Belarus has extradited Baumgertner to Russia without official compensation, on which it had previously insisted.
Belarus won some political and publicity benefits from the conflict, but lost out in Russo-Belarusian relations. For example, Russia has reduced oil supplies to Belarusian refineries, and the next EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund tranche has been delayed. In addition, Belarusian industry exports to Russia have collapsed, and sales of potassium – one of the main budgetary proceeds in Belarus – will not recover soon. All this approximates the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.
Baumgertner’s extradition has not affected Russo-Belarusian economic relations. In 2014 Belarus will continue paying Russia export duties on petrochemicals produced from Russian oil.
In addition, Belarus’ role in Russia’s foreign policy will reduce due to the suspension of Ukraine’s Euro-integration process. The Kremlin has successfully blocked the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU by Ukraine, which means Russia will redistribute resources from Belarus to a partner currently more important for Russia – Ukraine. Russian presidential advisor Sergei Glazyev said, that “we will reduce gas prices for you [Ukraine] to our domestic level, will supply duty-free oil”.
If Russia fulfills its promises, Belarus will permanently lose its influence on the Kremlin’s policy, and the possibility to receive preferences within the Eurasian integration in the planned volumes will be jeopardized. All in all, Belarus will have to allow Russia to increase its presence in the Belarusian economy.
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.