Minsk to suck advantage out of Russo-Ukrainian crisis
The Belarusian authorities aspire to suck advantage out of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, acting as a mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian cooperation in the military-industrial sphere. The Kremlin has not left attempts to persuade Belarus to start "trade wars" with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia within the Customs Union framework, in response to their rapprochement with the EU. However, Moscow is unlikely to succeed.
Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said that Russia could increase imports of components for military products from Belarus within the recently launched large-scale programme.
The protracted Russo-Ukrainian conflict has provided the officials in Minsk with an exceptional opportunity to increase their importance on the arms market – to act as a mediator in military-industrial collaboration between the three countries: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Previously, Kiev announced that cooperation with Russia on military production would be suspended. However, military industries of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are tightly integrated and co-dependent yet since the Soviet era, each one of them specialising on different production types. The main market for Ukrainian military producers is Russia and without this market, Ukraine will hardly preserve her defence industry. Interestingly, the Kremlin also has no replacement for the Ukraine-made military products either in the short or in the mid-term.
Belarus’ balanced stance in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis makes the military-industrial cooperation between the three countries possible. Russia’s Ambassador Surikov underscored, that “Russia has invited Belarus’ military industry to consider producing several thousand names of components that Russia needs." Before that, President Lukashenko also talked about potential cooperation between Belarusian and Ukrainian military production industries.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has not left attempts to prompt Belarus (and Kazakhstan) to joint actions within the Customs Union, aiming to put pressure on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, in response to signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Nevertheless, Belarus insists on making independent decisions and is not willing to delegate the issue of import restrictions to the Eurasian Commission. Belarus digs in heels because reciprocal restrictions on imports from Belarus, which these countries could introduce, would imply heavy losses for Belarus’ economy.
For example, Belarus unilaterally lifted restrictions on beer and chocolate imports from Ukraine, which she had introduced in April – May 2014, i.e. as soon as Ukraine threatened to introduce reciprocal restrictions on imports of some Belarusian products (tyres, refrigerators, dairy products, nitrogen fertilizers, etc.). In addition, unlike Russia, Belarus has not closed her market for products from Moldova. Moreover, Moldova’s Prime Minister Leancă said, that Moldova was looking forward to President Lukashenko’s visit in late September.
It seems, that the ‘moderate’ stance of the Belarusian authorities in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis is playing into the hands of all parties, enabling them to preserve communication channel for the most "vulnerable" issues in Russo-Ukrainian cooperation, such as military-industrial production.
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.