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BELARUSIAN PERSPECTIVE on CRISIS in UKRAINE
(magazine “SAKAVIK”, March 2014, issue 5, pp. 6-9)
During the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005, Viktor Yushchenko, came to power as a pro-Western President. He was accepted by the Western community as the leader of Ukraine. In the next elections, pro-Russian President Yanukovich was elected and took over and continued with negotiations for the Association Agreement with the EU. However, as expected, Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement because of the pressure exerted by Russia. Current extensive economic relations between Russia, Ukraine and other post-Soviet States allow Russia to continue their deep relations with these former member states of the USSR. When needed Russia pressures other countries, such as Ukraine, so they will not risk not complying.
In the midst of this crisis in Ukraine, Belarus has a window of opportunity. While the world is focused on Crimea and Ukraine, no one is paying much attention to their Northern neighbour. Even though Belarus only shares its Southern border with the North of Ukraine, it is physically the only division between the EU and Russia. No wonder the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument began financing training for journalists from Belarus. More recently Belarus requested that Russia deploy additional combat aircraft on its territory.
This short article will look at a Belarusian perspective in this situation and which possibilities Belarus can take advantage of, while the turmoil continues in Ukraine. First, the paper will analyze the advantages and disadvantages of its geographical position with respect to the EU and Russia. Second, it will focus on the implications for energy distribution in the region. The article will conclude by summarizing a Belarusian perspective on Ukraine crisis.
The strategic location of Belarus can be used to its advantage by the Belarusian people and Belarusian government. Belarus will continue supporting Russia for as long as it continues to be their backbone. At the same time, if the European Union through its Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument offers programs that directly support Belarusian citizens and indirectly benefit Ukraine, they wouldn’t refuse that offer. A recent example is EU financial support for training Belarusian journalists. Opportunities have been and will continue to become more available for young citizens and activists to participate in EU funded events, training and workshops. This training in journalism could be later used in Ukraine while the knowledge will remain with Belarusian citizens.
The territory of Belarus has frequently experienced physical battles and served as a shield for Russia in the past. Belarus certainly does not want to experience any additional fighting even if it is in a neighbouring country. However, to protect itself, and assist Russia at the same time, it offered to deploy up to 15 additional warplanes in the Belarusian territory in response to increased NATO activity. One day later, Russia took advantage of that opportunity and sent six Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets and three military transport aircraft to an airfield in Babruysk, in Mahiliou region near Ukraine, ensuring that they could participate in the Belarusian army’s operational readiness test on Friday, March 14, 2014. The Belarusian Defense Ministry stated that they would take appropriate measures in case of further troop build-up in the neighbouring countries, referring to Ukraine.
The secession referendum in Ukraine will set precedence for the upcoming Presidential elections in May 2014. Already, there is a clear division between Western governments that do not recognize the all-Crimean referendum that took place on March 16, 2014. Russia, on the other hand, has recognized and accepted the referendum in Crimea.
It is important to note that in the last few years, Russia has had a strategic priority of increasing and using its energy capabilities to gain the status of a significant energy player in the world. The following energy implications resulting from this crisis will drastically affect Russia, the EU, Belarus and Ukraine.
EU: disruption in the supply of gas and oil from Russia, in the short term, could be replaced by large amounts of reserves the EU has been able to store during this mild winter. In the long run supplies would be largely affected and there will be an urgent need to look for alternative suppliers. The US does not have the capacity at the moment to export needed amounts of gas and oil to the EU.
Ukraine: In the short term, if the disruption in supplies occurs Ukraine could begin to use some of the reserves it has made during this winter. However, it will be difficult to find the alternative amounts of energy needed quickly. In addition, Ukraine will need to begin to repay its loan to Russia, furthering increasing its debt. Alternative energy investments could be one of the best ways to guarantee energy security in the long term by making Ukraine less energy dependent on Russia.
Russia: having the EU as a main consumer of its energy, Russia will be forced to form closer relations eastwards with China. Luckily, China is ready to do so, but it will come at a large cost for Russia, due to position it will be in. Gazprom’s South Stream, and the unification of the energy system in the EU is all at stake and it is estimated that Russia would lose about 2% of GDP if full sanctions were implemented. Then Russia would not be able to fulfill its social obligations. Russia has used its energy frequently as a tool to manipulate international relations and will perceive sanctions as a large threat furthering the divide between the West and East.
Belarus is sympathetic to Russia for the treatment it receives by the international community because the international community treats Belarus the same way. Belarus feels the effects of double standards and the international community’s preference for smaller countries that have commodities to offer. Belarus does not have many resources to offer and keeping Russia as an ally seems to be in their best interest. Belarusian authorities express their support for Russia by condemning protests in Belarus supporting a pro-European Ukraine. During recent uprisings that occurred in Belarus, protestors were jailed.
Essentially, Belarus is squeezed between the EU, Russia and Ukraine. Belarus does not fit, or even want to fit into the EU circles. It does not have a smooth relationship with Ukraine, and all it is left with is Russia. When the relationship with Russia hits its lows, as it did in 2010, Belarus looked elsewhere for support. According to the National Statistical Committee of Belarus, Belarus signed an agreement with Venezuela in 2010 to import crude oil, resulting in over $1 billion worth of crude imports in both 2010 and 2011. When relations with Russia improved in 2012, the amount of oil imported was drastically reduced to only $300 million. Belarus must constantly manoeuvre as necessary to fit the situation and reduce its losses.
Carefully planning every step, Belarus can achieve positive outcomes from the current crisis in Ukraine, or it can suffer losses. It is up to the Belarusian authorities and citizens to choose what they perceive as important.
Viktoryia Kozlova: BELARUSIAN PERSPECTIVE on CRISIS in UKRAINE
(abstract, magazine “SAKAVIK”, March 2014, issue 5, pp. 6-9)
This short article looks at a Belarusian perspective and which possibilities Belarus can take advantage of, while the turmoil continues in Ukraine. First, the paper analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of its geographical position with respect to the EU and Russia. Second, it focuses on the implications for energy distribution in the region. The article summarizes a Belarusian perspective on Ukraine crisis.