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Russia versus Belarus

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, June 11
Russia’s policy towards its former Soviet Union allies is very straightforward. Generally it can be described like this: Moscow demands something, and if it is not obeyed it takes sanctions, mostly economic ones. However in Georgia’s case it used open aggression. So far no international force or institution or any particular state has been able to counter Russia’s methods.

Now the Kremlin has imposed an economic embargo on its closest ally, Belarus. The major reason for this is that President Lukashenko has refused to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states. Moscow denies this, saying Belarus dairy products do not meet sanitary requirements. So the question arises: why Belarus and not Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan? So far no CIS member country apart from Russia has recognized the Georgian breakaway territories. In reality it changes nothing whether states recognise these entities or not, Russia will still carry out its militarization of these regions. But Moscow is playing a trick. If Belarus surrenders to Russian pressure and recognises the puppet regimes it will have problems with the EU and be isolated from it. Therefore it will have no choice but to become even more deeply dependent on Russia. This is what the Kremlin is trying to achieve in its milk war against Belarus.

Moscow is seriously concerned about Belarus integrating with EU structures. It is doing its best to stop this, using different methods. Last November it offered a USD 2 billion loan on the precondition that it recognised the Georgian breakaway territories. EU officials meanwhile have given a green light to Belarus joining the Eastern Partnership Programme which will open up serious economic benefits for Belarus, which directly borders the EU. So Belarus has several times delayed discussing the issue of recognition. At the moment Lukashenko seems to be unwilling to support the puppet regimes and is probably optimistic about what the EU can offer. But Moscow, as ever, is not going to take this disobedience lying down.

Moscow had previously given its neighbour USD 1.5 billion of a 2 billion aid package. It has now postponed paying the last half a billion USD, quoting the “unstable microeconomic situation in Belarus” as the reason. Lukashenko has said openly that this is a blackmail attempt, adding that if Moscow tries to occupy Belarus it will get another war like Chechnya. The milk war is simply a continuation of this blackmail. The notorious Gennady Onishenko, head of the Russian Sanitary Service, is the man responsible for banning 500 Belarus diary products on the grounds of low quality. This is very simi;lar to what happened to Georgia, when Onishenko banned Georgian wine and mineral water for the same ‘reason.’

Belarus’ independence irritates Moscow and it cannot conceal its anger. Russian Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin has recently implied Belarus should be a Russian region, stating that being a sovereign state is a big burden for the country as having its own banking system, currency, armed forces, governance, and courts are very expensive. He also said that Lukashenko’s refusal to have a common currency with Russia was a strategic mistake.

Lukashenko has said that Belarus sees co-operation with the EU as a strategic direction for the country. He has added that increased trade turnover with EU countries is positive for Belarus. He also expects to receive credit resources and investments from the EU. European structures are now highlighting serious improvements in the democratisation and human rights situations in Belarus, having previously subjected the country to much criticism which was music to Moscow’s ears.

So an interesting situation is developing. Moscow is applying pressure, and the EU therefore needs to show how committed it is towards a potential partner and ally. If it is serious about the Eastern Partnership the EU should at least try to prevent Belarus suffering dire consequences as a result of the Russian embargo. In the near future we’ll see how flexible and efficient the EU’s eastern policy is.