Minsk is not interested in complicating political relations with Kyiv
Official Minsk is not interested in complicating political relations with Kyiv because of the growing tension in the Belarusian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations. The introduction of food embargo on Ukrainian products by the Kremlin has created additional opportunities for Belarus as an access point to the Eurasian markets for Ukrainian goods. Trade incidents between Minsk and Kyiv will reach a compromise without any effect on political cooperation between the two countries.
Ukrainian experts say a new mechanism to block access of competitive products to the Belarusian market has been introduced. By introducing special sanitary certificates for importers, Minsk has actually blocked the supply of Ukrainian food products to Belarus. For instance, the president of Ukrkondprom association Alexander Baldynyuk has accused the Belarusian authorities of violating the agreement on free trade zone within the CIS countries, to which Belarus and Ukraine are parties.
In response, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has denied the fact of discrimination against Ukrainian goods and said there was no need to withdraw sanitary examination of Ukrainian goods. Belarusian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mironchik has referred to the need to protect the Eurasian market and show potential benefits of the Eurasian integration to Ukraine: "This regulation applies to producers from all countries, which are not members of the Eurasian Economic Union. Imported products are under control due to the objective need to protect the health of our citizens”.
According to experts, Belarus may lose tens of millions of dollars after Ukraine introduces special duties on some Belarusian goods. If introduced, the special duty’s size (39.2%) will make Belarusian goods non-competitive on the Ukrainian market.
Yet in 2014, the Belarusian authorities introduced licensing for importers of beer and confectionery from outside the Customs Union, including Ukraine and obliged them to coordinate prices for these products on the Belarusian market. However, after the reciprocal restrictions on some Belarusian goods by Kyiv, Minsk had revoked its decision. This time, the Ukrainian authorities are also planning to introduce export duties on sensitive exports from Belarus in response to the new rules for importers to Belarus (Regulation No 666 of August 2015). Now each batch of imported products requires mandatory sanitary and hygienic registration, which has led to an increase in delivery terms and additional costs for the examination. As a result, the supply of confectionery and beer from Ukraine to Belarus has encountered difficulties.
Ukraine has announced that it will introduce special duties in two months in order to prompt Belarus to conduct negotiations and reach a reasonable compromise on restrictions. Some sensitive Belarusian produces are listed among goods to be subjected to the special duty. If Belarus insists on restrictions against Ukrainian goods, she may reduce the supply of tyres and tractors to Ukraine after January 20th, 2016 or stop them at all. Overall, restrictions are likely to be mutually abolished before 2016.
Amid increased tension in the trade and economic relations between Minsk and Kyiv, the Belarusian special services have enhanced a campaign against Belarusian citizens fighting in Ukraine. Last week, Interior Minister Ivan Shunevich said a criminal investigation could be launched against Belarusian nationals-combatants in the south-east of Ukraine. Shortly after, the Investigative Committee reported the detention of a Belarusian citizen at the Minsk railway station, who allegedly was taking part in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Information Policy Minister Bidenko emphasised the lack of disputes concerning the launch of Ukrainian TV channel in Belarus and promised that after testing UATV the negotiations with the Belarusian authorities on the broadcast would resume.
The Belarusian authorities may continue introducing import restrictions on competitive products from Ukraine. However, these measures are likely to be only temporary to avoid Belarusian-Ukrainian trade wars and complications in political relations. In addition, Minsk may be interested in improving the Belarusian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations in the view of the food embargo on Ukraine to be introduced by the Kremlin as of January 1st, 2016. As Moscow bans Ukrainian and European products, Belarus receives the opportunity to increase supplies of Belarusian produces and re-export Ukrainian products to Russia via Belarusian intermediaries.
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.