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.
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.