Updated at 01:25,03-03-2021

CSTO summit held in Moscow despite Lukashenka’s boycott


Six member states of the ex-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) went ahead with Sunday’s summit in Moscow despite the absence of Alyaksandr Lukashenka who boycotted the event over a dairy trade dispute with Russia.

Five of the states – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan – signed an agreement establishing a CSTO joint rapid response force, but Minsk has already described the accord as invalid. Uzbekistan did not sign the agreement, citing "some reservations."

Mr. Lukashenka did not travel to Moscow for the summit in protest against Russia’s decision to ban the import of Belarusian dairy products on technical grounds. Belarus had been expected to take over the rotating presidency of the military bloc at the event.

In a statement ahead of the summit, the Belarusian foreign ministry explained that Mr. Lukashenka would not attend because of "overt economic discrimination on the part of one of the CSTO member states," which it said undermined the country’s economic security.

Andrey Papow, spokesman for the ministry, said that the agreement could not be regarded as valid because there was no consensus among members. Referring to a remark made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that the agreement would be signed without Belarus, Mr. Papow condemned it as "an attempt to ignore not only the principled position of a CSTO member state but also to ignore the organization’s fundamental rule – the rule of consensus decision-making that guarantees in practice that the opinion of all of the organization’s members without exception in such an important sphere as security is taken into account inviolately." He said that Minsk had sent an appropriate note to the CSTO secretariat.
Speaking at the summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Belarus could sign the agreement later.

Commenting on Mr. Lukashenka’s no-show, Mr. Medvedev chided his Belarusian counterpart for not making a phone call to warn of his decision. He urged Minsk to solve economic disputes with Russia through bilateral talks instead of politicizing them and "blowing out hysteria." "It is desirable that economic issues should be solved through direct contacts rather than through shifting the burden of responsibility for bilateral economic problems on the multilateral format, which ensures life and security in a number of states," RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

He reportedly expressed hope that "the meat and milk hysteria" would not undermine the establishment of the CSTO rapid response force.

Earlier this month Russia’s federal consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor banned the import of some 1,200 titles of dairy products, citing the producers’ failure to obtain necessary permits in accordance with Russia’s food standards in effect since December 2008.

The ban further strained bilateral relations just days after a row caused by Russia’s decision not to give Belarus a $500-million loan over its "unsound" economic policy.

"Disproportions and imbalances are growing stronger in the Belarusian economy," Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in late May. "In our opinion, the government of the Republic of Belarus is taking insufficient measures to ensure the financial solvency of its economy. Effects of the crisis are being delayed artificially."

The remarks sparked a furious reaction from Mr. Lukashenka who accused Mr. Kudrin of attempting to "sow panic" in Belarus and siding with his political opponents.