Customs Union does not protect Belarus from external shocks
Belarus’ reduced exports to Russia and urged devaluation in Kazakhstan imply that the Customs Union is unable to achieve its main goal – to support CU participants’ economies integrating into the global economy. Controversies among the participating states will not fade as they negotiate integration processes, led by Russia.
Last week, information about the preparation of the Eurasian Economic Union’s core documents was disseminated, which indicated the parties’ inability to overcome differences in approaches to economic integration. Russia insists on introducing common rules in trade and economic policy, and on harmonising technical standards, while Belarus wants to keep national technical standards to evade the common rules in the trade and financial policies. Moreover, Belarus does not agree with having a common economic policy.
Agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union is scheduled to be signed in May 2014, and it is becoming clear that this document will be just a declaration. Agreements on main substantial provisions will be postponed.
In addition, it is unlikely that the parties will be able to find a compromise. The first results of the economic integration’s ‘primary stage’, i.e. the Customs Union, have not inspired the participating countries. Most of all, this applies to Belarus. The benefits which Belarus has received within the Customs Union – preferential conditions for the supply of oil and gas – are insufficient to protect her economy from negative external influences and competition.
In 2013, Belarus lost her position on the Russian market regarding most commodities and accumulated a huge trade deficit (USD 5.8 bln). Belarus had to patch up the negative trade balance with loans and international reserves, which created additional pressure on the national currency. In addition, in early 2014, Belarus’ both partners in CU – Russia and Kazakhstan – devalued their national currencies, prompting her to depreciate the Belarusian ruble.
It is noteworthy that in a similar way, the Russo-Belarusian bilateral integration project – Union State of Belarus and Russia – the Customs Union predecessor, was unable to resolve the disputes between the parties. They were permanently postponed and have never been resolved. The irresolvable contradictions, rooted in opposite expectations from the Union State, had prompted Russia to offer a more ‘advanced’ integration project in a trilateral format.
Presumably, the existing contradictions and disagreements will not interfere with parties signing the agreement on the Eurasian Economic Union with great solemnity and minimal substance. Signing the agreement will not eliminate conflicts, trade wars or mutual accusations by the participating countries.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.