Consensus leads to result
[b]In mid-December, Moscow hosted several summits with Alexander Lukashenko’s participation [/b]The President of Belarus held talks with his Russian colleague, Dmitry Medvedev. Later, one after another, the participants of the Customs Union, EurAsEC, CSTO and CIS gathered in Kremlin. A package of important collective decisions was adopted covering such realms as the launch of the Single Economic Space, on the basis of the Customs Union. This heralds an even deeper degree of integration, envisaging a unified customs and economic policy.
The President of Belarus held talks with his Russian colleague, Dmitry Medvedev. Later, one after another, the participants of the Customs Union, EurAsEC, CSTO and CIS gathered in Kremlin. A package of important collective decisions was adopted covering such realms as the launch of the Single Economic Space, on the basis of the Customs Union. This heralds an even deeper degree of integration, envisaging a unified customs and economic policy.
Top level meetings regarding Belarusian-Russian relations were of special significance. “Some rubbed their hands in glee at the prospect of the presidents of Belarus and Russia having quarrelled but their hopes are in vain; we haven’t quarrelled,” stressed Mr. Lukashenko, answering a question from a journalist. “As people say in Russia, relatives can quarrel, even in the kitchen. As unexpectedly as our relations spoiled, they were mended in the same breath.” According to the President, serious decisions made during talks with Mr. Medvedev have not been a surprise to him. As announced in Moscow, Russia is to lift duties on oil and oil products supplied to Belarus. Minsk has defended its position in the Customs Union; moreover, the Single Economic Space is designed to avoid inter-state fees.
Belarus’ First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Semashko, tells us about the details of the agreements made by Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Medvedev in the Kremlin. “Everything has been done to ensure that these agreements come into force on January 1st, 2011. The document will come into force as soon as Belarus conducts inter-state procedures regarding the Single Economic Space.” He notes the importance of deliveries being made without quotas or other restrictions.
Mr. Semashko explains that Belarus will pay full duties to the Russian budget for oil products processed from Russian oil, as well as those from oil mined on Belarusian territory. However, Belarus will be allowed to independently export crude oil (mined on its own territory) to third countries; in this case, duties will remain in the Belarusian budget. Almost 1.7m tonnes of oil being mined annually by Belarus in its southern regions will fall into this category. Additionally, the oil which Belarus purchases from Venezuela and from other third countries falls beyond the framework of the bilateral hydrocarbon-related agreement. Duties on oil products processed from this oil will go to the Belarusian budget.
According to Russia’s Economic Development Minister, Elvira Nabiullina, Russia will gain much more in the mid-term than it loses in the short-term from lifting oil duties for Belarus.
Most experts assess the Moscow agreements as having important impetus for the Belarusian economy. In particular, the Head of the Centre on European Integration, Yuri Shevtsov, believes the agreements achieved by the three presidents are a success. Mr. Lukashenko said that, initially, Belarus was quite anxious about the formation of the Customs Union and the Single Economic Space, since our partner states are rich in hydrocarbon resources. In this respect, their interests coincide and simultaneously contradict those of Belarus (which needs to purchase almost all key resources). Before signing the 17 Single Economic Space forming documents, Minsk insisted on abolishing Russia’s duties on oil and oil products.
“We’ve enabled our enterprises to freely compete within a single customs space; it’s a serious step forward,” believes Mr. Lukashenko. “I can disappoint those who’ve dreamt of the destruction of our relationship: the case is rather the opposite. We’ve made a breakthrough in our relations.”
The Russian President admits that, initially, he thought that the creation of the Customs Union and the Singe Economic Space would take years. Now, he believes our countries are moving towards each other rapidly, with giant steps. He characterises the job of negotiators as titanic. As the Belarusian delegation notes, the co-ordination of our positions is conducted almost daily, with videoconferences organised between Minsk, Moscow and Astana where personal meetings are impossible. This has enabled Mr. Medvedev to announce that our three states have managed to agree on forming the Single Economic Space by the end of 2010, with all necessary documents signed. On January 1st, 2012, the Single Economic Space could become a reality.
The declaration signed by the three presidents reads that our countries are moving towards the establishment of a Eurasian Economic Union aiming for ‘harmonious, mutually supplementary and mutually beneficial co-operation with other countries, international economic associations and the European Union, with the further step of establishing a Single Economic Space’.
Interestingly, Mr. Medvedev’s plane returned from Brussels to Vnukovo simultaneously with that of Belarus’ President. As information agencies have reported, he has agreed on Russia’s joining the WTO. Previously, the joining of our three states as a single structure was debated.
According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s Press Secretary, Andrei Savinykh, Mr. Medvedev’s announcements on Russia’s independent joining of the WTO next year do not contradict agreements by the Customs Union’s three member states — Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan — on jointly joining the organisation (as a single structure). Mr. Savinykh stresses that the previously adopted decision by our three states’ governments exists at a strategic level; this refers to a co-ordinated and joint membership. “This is how our delegations work in Geneva during talks dealing with WTO membership,” he adds.
Our Foreign Ministry is proposing that our Customs Union partners form a Single Economic Space between the Customs Union and the EU, since the Union cannot exist alone. Without co-operation with other economic centres, it is likely to fail. Naturally, one of these partners is the EU. Belarus believes that our three states must elaborate a co-ordinated approach to establishing long-term relations with the European Union. This should also strengthen our position during talks with Brussels.
Our breakthrough regarding economic integration in the post-Soviet space has been followed by the adoption of security measures. In mid-2010, Kyrgyzstan (an operative member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation) endured conflict yet the CSTO showed almost no involvement. Accordingly, the CSTO’s future and authority in international affairs was called into question. The heads of seven states agreed that reform was necessary. Having participated in the work of the CSTO since its foundation, Mr. Lukashenko told journalists that the agenda of the CSTO summit had never been so varied; the presidents signed over 30 documents.
This year, Russia (being the chairing country), prepared a reaction mechanism for crisis situations for the organisation. In Moscow, the chairmanship has now passed to Mr. Lukashenko, whose Belarusian delegation has a list of initiatives ready to strengthen the work of the CSTO and add real weight to it. The presidents who gathered in Moscow have breathed new life into most of the integration processes within the post-Soviet space, although at different speeds.
By Averian Kowalski