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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.