Kremlin still hopes to draw official Minsk into trade war with Kiev
A member of the Board on Trade in the Eurasian Economic Union, Minister Slepnyov, said that the Eurasian Economic Union did not preclude introducing protective measures on the Customs Union market due to Ukraine’s signing of the Association Agreement with the EU.
It should be noted that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia have already introduced unilateral restrictions on certain groups of goods from Ukraine, for example, on confectionery products, referring to internal reasons - to protect their markets under the import substitution policy. The Kremlin aspires to present unilateral measures taken by Belarus and Kazakhstan to restrict imports of Ukrainian goods, as joint actions of the Customs Union members in the EurAsEC – in order to put pressure on Kiev and strengthen the propaganda effect. However, official Minsk is not interested in siding with the Kremlin and participating in a trade war – quite the opposite, it hopes to increase trade with Ukraine.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.