Helping to guarantee Russia’s food security, Minsk increases its value to Kremlin
Amid escalation between the Kremlin and the West, Belarus is aspiring to reinforce her role in international trade by supplying Belarusian goods on the Russian market to replace western suppliers which fell under Russia’s sanctions. If Belarus increases her exports to Russia, Belarus’ domestic market might be hit by food deficit and economic imbalance will increase. Meanwhile, Belarus is anticipating skimming the cream off potential grey re-exports of goods to the Customs Union market.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin phoned President Lukashenko to inform him about the economic sanctions introduced by Russia against some goods from countries which had imposed sanctions on Russian organisations and citizens.
The Belarusian leadership was upbeat about the sanctions introduced by the Kremlin against imports of some foodstuffs from the EU, USA, Australia, Canada and Norway. Belarus is aspiring to replace some of the imports from these countries with Belarusian products. Belarus’ First Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Foodstuffs Leonid Marinich said: “For us, this is the Klondike. We are willing to replace food supplies from Western countries”.
The Kremlin is also counting on Belarus’ assistance in fighting against potential food supply deficit, since some of the goods from the ‘sanctions list’ had a lion’s share on the Russian market. For instance, meat production in Russia covered only 70% of the domestic market demand. Belarus’ Agriculture Minister Leonid Zayats said he had already scheduled a meeting with Rosselkhoznadzor Head Sergey Dankvert “to discuss issues related to the supply of Belarusian products to the Russian market”.
In January – May 2014 beef and dairy exports from Belarus to Russia fell by 17.2% and 2.6% accordingly, compared with the same period in 2013. Some experts are expressing doubts that Belarusian agriculture will be able to replace foodstuffs from countries that have come under Russian sanctions. They say that Belarus will be unable to swiftly increase her production of goods from the ‘sanctions list’, such as dairy products, pork, beef, vegetables and fruits.
Interestingly, Belarus herself imports significant volumes of some of these foodstuffs from the EU. Most likely, the Kremlin will turn a blind eye to grey re-exports of foodstuffs from Belarus, especially, if Russia is hit by a deficit. In addition, Belarusian retailers might be prompted to replace Belarusian products exported to Russia with imported goods from the EU.
It is worth noting that Belarus has already been hit by pork deficit. For example, on May 1st, 2014, the number of pigs in Belarus decreased by 19.5% compared with 2013. President Lukashenko personally reacted to the situation and demanded pig livestock to be restored by the year-end.
All in all, Belarus has upped her importance in the Kremlin’s eyes as a guarantor of Russia’s food security. Belarus may also become a switch dealer who supplies scarce EU-made goods to the Russian market. If tension between Moscow and Western capitals escalates, Minsk will also become more valuable to Russia as a military ally.
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.