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Minsk loses its position vis-à-vis Moscow

April 22, 2016 18:41

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.

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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.