LONDON Mon Dec 15, 2014 5:00 pm GMT
By Krystina Shveda
Russia-centred free trade union may be undermined by a growing conflict between the main partners Russia and Belarus as Moscow accused its neighbour of re-exporting banned Western products.
In August, Moscow imposed embargo on agricultural products from a number of Western countries in response to sanctions that EU and US announced to stop Kremlin-backed war in Eastern Ukraine.
This inevitably led to trade reshuffles in the region, with Belarus having used its chance to increase export of meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetables to Russia. But despite a signed agreement, Moscow started to hamper free trade, fearing its western neighbour would collaborate with the EU.
Image Source: Wikimedia
In late November, Russia’s sanitary surveillance service, de facto used as a customs substitute, accused Minsk of illegal re-exporting EU vegetables to Russia and announced its intention to tighten the conditions of food cargo transit across its territory.
Earlier, it banned export of certain Belarusian meat products due to “a decline in the quality that might have been caused by an unusual increase in import of Western products to Belarus”.
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said he found Russia’s move “depressing” and “indecent”.
“Re-export is impossible, since it’s tracked. If we buy fruits and vegetables in Germany or Poland and process them into juices et cetera, it means we sell Belarusian products to Russia. It’s not banned by this embargo,” he explained earlier.
In response, Belarus unofficially renewed customs control at Russian border in early December. On Monday, it banned import of certain Russian products.
Belarusian counter-measures may be interpreted as an ultimatum to defend its right to free trade that underlies the Eurasian Customs Union agreement.
Kremlin’s support of war in Eastern Ukraine driven by a desperate desire to drag pro-European Ukraine to its free trade union – to control its natural and labour resources ¬– may ironically put an end to the union itself.
While Moscow keeps on denying its involvement, the actual war casualties grow, with at least 4,500 killed, 10,200 wounded and 1,1m refugees, according to a U.N. report from 13 December.
Ukrainians around the globe organise protests to demand even more far-reaching sanctions as well as military assistance from the West.
A London-based protester Orest Andrijiw said: “The sanctions currently being imposed on Putin are falling far short of what is available on the table, considering the fact that Ukraine is on this country’s doorstep. The war is threatening Europe.”