Updated at 14:37,26-01-2021

Kremlin needs Belarus to demonstrate its strength

Belarus in focus

Minsk aspires to preserve preferences provided by the Kremlin and, in response, it is ready to demonstrate loyalty to the Russian leadership. Belarus, however, has its own interests, which Russian elite has to take into account - primarily in order to preserve the reputation of the ganglion for post-Soviet integration.

On June 7th, Minsk hosted the Third Regions’ Forum of Russia and Belarus. The Forum is a pompous event, which is held to demonstrate the unity of the Russian ruling elite and Russia’s special role in the post-Soviet space, especially after the divorce with Ukraine. The first Forum was held in Minsk on June 10th, 2014; the second - in Sochi, and the third in Minsk again. Other activities within the framework of the Union State were timed to the Forum, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Committee meeting of the Council of Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus and the Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

Amid recession in Russia and falling export to Russia, Belarus has been actively developing contacts with the Russian regions. Since 2014, Belarus held at least 30 government meetings with the heads of Russian regions in Minsk and in the regional capitals, during which it concluded agreements for direct supplies of foodstuffs, agricultural equipment and other Belarusian produces. Apparently, both sides benefit from this relatively new activity within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State.

The Russian leadership is attempting to demonstrate the absence of serious problems in bilateral Russo-Belarusian relations, which is particularly important for Russian society in the view of a crisis in Russia’s relations with Ukraine, the EU and Turkey. In turn, Minsk is attempting to compensate for the loss in bilateral trade with Russia by increasing the supply of products from the sanctions list to both countries, which is likely to be acceptable to all parties.

The iconic nature of the event and its symbolic value does not suggest achieving concrete results and / or resolving protracted conflicts in the Russo-Belarusian relations. For instance, the issue with lower price for Russian gas supplies to Belarus has not been resolved. Simultaneously, the Russian government has not yet closed this issue with Belarus. Presumably, the gas issue may be resolved by revising the ratio between Gazprom profits andinvestment component in the price of gas for Belarusian consumers.

In response to Belarus’ claims regarding numerous discriminatory measures against Belarusian products on the Russian market, the Kremlin may be willing to show some carelessness regarding re-export of products from the sanction by Belarus. Meanwhile, Russia has demonstrated potential consequences in case Belarus goes too far with re-exports to Russia - the day the Belarusian-Russian unity event was held, Russian customs detained a large shipment of Polish apples at the Russo-Belarusian border.

Minsk is ready to demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin in exchange for benefits from economic cooperation with Russia. This, however, does not mean that the Belarusian government is ready to sacrifice Belarus’ sovereignty.