Minsk supports Chisinau’s European integration
Official Minsk is supportive of Moldova’s European integration as it would create more opportunities for promoting Belarus’ interests on the European market. Meanwhile, Belarus is gaining economic benefits from the pressure on Chisinau created by the Kremlin’s sanctions by re-exporting processed Moldovan products to the Russian market. In addition, the Belarusian authorities hope that by supporting Moldova’s rapprochement with the EU, they will improve their relations with Brussels.
In Chisinau, after talks with his Moldovan counterpart Nikolai Timofti, President Lukashenko called for the situation regarding the EU-Moldova Association Agreement not to be dramatised.
During his visit to Moldova, President Lukashenko spoke in favour of Moldova signing the Association Agreement with the EU, saying that, “we will not make a song and dance about this and will not create any impassable obstacles in this regard”
The Belarusian authorities count on Chisinau’s support in promoting their economic interests on the European market. They are considering entering the European market by establishing Belarus’ assembly plants in Moldova. In fact, Moldova has already been implementing such projects – Belarus assembles her agricultural equipment and trolley-buses there and has plans to launch an assembly line for Belarusian busses. In particular, President Lukashenko underscored, “For example, we’ll localise the co-production of tractors and agricultural machinery as required by the European Union; i.e. Moldova will produce some parts, [the final product] will be certified and sold to the EU as our joint product; and we’ll divide profits as usual”.
President Lukashenko visited Moldova amid the Kremlin’s sanctions pressure on Chisinau. Russia restricted imports of fresh fruits, canned vegetables and meat from Moldova after Chisinau ratified the Moldova-EU Association Agreement in July 2014. As of September 2013, the Kremlin suspended wine deliveries from Moldova to Russia. Interestingly, Russia is the main consumer of Moldovan fruits, which make up 80% of the total fruit exports to Russia.
Following Russia’s sanctions, Belarus has increased her imports of fruits. In August 2014, she imported 24 times more apples and six times more plums from Moldova. Experts do not exclude that these products could later have been re-exported to Russia from Belarus labelled as grown in Belarus.
That said, President Lukashenko still made some comments following the Kremlin’s line, but modified his tone, “we do not need more tension or dividing lines in Eurasia. We support integration within integration and in the longer term, the common economic space – from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
All in all, Minsk aspires to gain some economic benefits from the confrontation between Russia and post-Soviet states reproaching the EU by processing products from the sanctions list and re-exporting them to the Russian market.
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.