Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Lukashenka not inclined to quarrel with Ukraine

By Alyaksandr Klaskowski, BelaPAN

Alyaksandr Lukashenka gave a warm reception to Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov in Minsk on October 7 as tensions rise between Moscow and Kyiv over the Ukrainian governments intention to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

Kyiv sees the Belarusian leader as a tactical ally and a mediator in relations with Russia. In addition, Ukraine does not want to burn all bridges with the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Minsk adopts moderate line

Lukashenka at his October 7 meeting with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov played down concerns over Ukraines rapprochement with the EU. "We already live in a certain reality and formulate our common policy with due regard to it, regardless of whether we want it or not," Lukashenka said. "Irrespective of what Ukraine decides to do, even if it joins NATO, we will still have to seek [good] relations with Ukraine. We have to do this for many reasons."

It was difficult to reconcile the remark with Lukashenkas anti-Western tirades of the past. The Belarusian ruler was strongly vocal in his opposition to the alliances expansion in the 1990s, when NATO admitted Poland and the Baltic states.

Although Lukashenka formally invited Ukraine to join the Customs Union, he recently warned Russian politicians against imposing a single currency and supranational agencies on Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Kyivs rapprochement with EU keeps Minsks hope for new benefits alive

In fact, Minsk is not interested in Ukraines accession to the Customs Union because it would receive fewer benefits from Moscow, Alyaksandr Tsikhamiraw, a Minsk-based international relations scholar, told The Viewer.

Belarus had a surplus of $1.7 billion in trade with Ukraine in the first eight months. Last year bilateral trade amounted to nearly $8 billion.

Despite international criticism of Belarus investment climate, Ukrainians do not hesitate to put their money in businesses in Belarus. In a recent deal, Zaporizhzhes Motor Sich acquired a controlling stake in Orsha Aircraft Repair Works, planning to launch a helicopter modernization program.

Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and his Ukrainian counterpart signed a number of agreements, including a "roadmap" for the development of bilateral cooperation from 2013 through 2015. The officials discussed industrial cooperation projects, BelaPAN reported.

Minsk would oppose Moscows possible policy of stifling Ukraine, says Tsikhamiraw. Lukashenka was on good terms with Ukraines former pro-Western leader, Viktor Yushchenko, and settled a long-standing border dispute with the current president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraines close ties with the EU open an additional communication channel for Minsk, Tsikhamiraw says. Ukraines rapprochement with the EU gives Minsk room for maneuver in its dealings with Russia, says Valery Karbalevich, of the Stratehiya think tank.

Lukashenka unlikely to take Ukraine's path

To build closer ties with the EU, Ukraine is ready to lose something in the short term to benefit in the future, Karbalevich says. "The Ukrainian elite looks farther into the future than Lukashenka," he notes.

The Belarusian leader is more skilled in gaining short-term benefits but seems to lack strategic vision. His country has stuck in the Soviet past with a stagnant economy and an eroding human potential.

In Ukraine, Yanukovych has limited powers and faces a two-term limit on the presidents. Despite his image of a Soviet-style authoritarian leader, his policies reflect sentiment of the majority that is in favor of closer ties with the EU.

Incidentally, supporters of EU membership (42.4 percent) outnumber those aspiring for unification with Russia (35.6 percent) in Belarus, a September poll by the Independent Institute of Social, Economic and Political Studies found.

But the Belarusian leader sees closer ties with the EU as a threat to his regimes survival.

However, Lukashenka would like to maintain good relations with Ukraine. He would not mind criticizing Moscow for its attacks on Kyiv.

Lukashenka described the issue of Ukraine-EU rapprochement as too politicized. "We have driven ourselves to this point," he said. "One should always proceed from realities. Judging by statements from Brussels and Kyiv, the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union is now an almost accomplished fact. So we should approach this issue from the assumption that Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state, which has chosen this path and decided to sign this agreement."

Incidentally, Belarusian health experts have not found benzopyrene in confectionary products of Ukraines Roshen banned in Russia for allegedly containing the carcinogen.