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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.