Swiss Ambassador to Armenia Lukas Gasser: Switzerland will try to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without questioning the established formats such as the OSCE Minsk process
By having announced its accession to the Customs Union Armenia has finally chosen the system of coordinates that will guide it in its foreign and economic policies in the mid-term future. Expert from the Strategy Analytical Center (Belarus) Valery Karbalevich has told ArmInfo how comfortable it is to be part of the Customs Union.
by David Stepanyan
Let me start with the most acute problem. Is the conflict over Uralkali politically motivated or is this just the problem of a $100mln damage?
The motives that have pushed Belarus to start one more trade conflict with Russia are obvious. The arrest of the company’s CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was a traumatic reaction to Uralkali’s decision to split from the Byelorussian Potassium Company (BKK). Experts report the BKK to lose as much as $1bln-1.5bln a year, as a result. And this is happening not only because of falling prices. The BKK has no own traders or own network left for selling its potassium fertilizers – all of this has gone together with Uralkali, leaving the Byelorussians with nothing. Two of the BKK’s four deposits have been closed. And all this is happening to Belarus’s key exporter at the time when the country is stifling from want of foreign exchange. Alexander Lukashenko took this as personal insult and hurried to revenge. As a result, the Byelorussian investigation committee ruled that Uralkali caused Belarus a damage of $100mln. And this may well be the price of Baumgertner’s freedom.
Moscow’s response to Baumgertner’s arrest was Transneft’s decision to reduce oil supplies to Belarus by 400,000 tons. On top of that, Russia’s Chief Sanitarian Gennady Onischenko appeared with a complaint about the quality of Byelorussian milk. Is this normal for allies?
The supplies of Byelorussian pork to Russia have been suspended under the pretext that Belarus has hotbeds of African swine fever. This is the only step of Russia that can be considered an economic sanction. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich has threatened to reduce the oil export to Belarus and cut the import of Byelorussian dairy products. Conflicts, scandals, reciprocal reproaches became a normal phenomenon in the two countries’ relations long ago. They have turned into traditional and inevitable dogs of the integration process. Regular quarrels and mutual obscenities have become so common that it is already impossible to imagine the two states’ “brotherhood” without them.
What are the reasons of this paradox?
A big conflict potential has accumulated over many years of endless integration and declarations of fraternal affection. The atmosphere of relations is so much electric that grudge match flares up from the smallest spark. It is paradoxical that the integration process meant to unite nations and states has become an apple of discord in our case. Conflictogenity lies in the matrix of relations. The conflict of Moscow and Minsk within this Union is not an accidental phenomenon, but a regular one. Therefore, the conflict is programmed for the whole period of the Belarus-Russia integration. The countries are simply doomed to scandals and arguments. Therefore, gas, oil and milk wars break out regularly. Now it is the turn of a potassium war.
Belarus is a member of the Customs Union. What advantages and disadvantages has the country gained over the 3 years of its membership in the Customs Union?
Belarus has been importing gas and oil on preferential terms since it joined the Customs Union. Russian subsidies make up nearly 16% of GDP of Belarus. In addition, Belarus enjoys preferential terms in the Russian market. For instance, from time to time the products of the machine-building companies of Belarus are acquired in Russia on the budget funds. Belarus received a 3 billion dollars loan from the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund over the last three years. All this would be impossible but for the Customs Union membership. But there are also disadvantages, e.g. the customs duties on foreign vehicles introduced in Belarus upon the demand of Russia. As a result, foreign-made vehicle prices have doubled hitting the pockets of the people. But the key problem Belarus gets from its membership of the Customs Union is that Russian benefits and preferences help preserving the outdated inefficient model of economy in Belarus, a kind of 'Kolkhoz Regime' with domination of the state that has entered the stage of crisis.
Belarus participates in the Eastern Partnership program together with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Ukraine is expected to sign and Armenia, Georgia and Moldova are expected to initial an Association Agreement and DCFTA with the European Union in November in Vilnius. Azerbaijan and Belarus keep aloof from these processes. Is the membership in the Customs Union the only reason of Belarus' passivity in European integration or are there more significant factors?
The Customs Union factor is not the most important here. Everything is explained by the current political conflict between Belarus and the European Union. In response to the opposition's defeat following the presidential election of 2010, the EU introduced visa sanctions against the high-ranking officials of Belarus, as well as some economic restrictions. Europe demands releasing the political prisoners. This is why the Eastern Partnership program cannot be effective for Belarus under the conflict conditions. In addition, official Minsk has no important need to normalize its relations with the European Union, because the ruling regime gets from Russia everything it wants.