Belarus–Ukraine: projects over decades worth billions.
Many centuries ago, the Belarusian and Ukrainian rivers of the Zapadnaya Dvina and Dnieper were used for trade, linking the Baltic and Black sea regions. It was the route from the Varangians to the Greeks. Today, it’s the 9th transport corridor, boasting a railway through Belarus and Ukraine, uniting the northern states of Finland, Lithuania and Russia with the southern states of Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Development of this Pan-European route continues, with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko giving it special attention during recent negotiations.
This year was a breakthrough for Belarus-Ukraine relations. Our presidents meetings were delayed many times but finally took place in Chernigov in January and in Gomel in May. These high-level negotiations lasted many hours, including discussion of trade (5 billion US Dollars last year, making Ukraine the third biggest Belarusian trading partner after Russia and the Netherlands) and the realisation of major joint transit and energy projects.
One of the most important topics for Belarus-Ukraine relations is the supply of Ukrainian energy to Lithuania. This year, Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is being retired — at the request of the European Union. Lithuania and Estonia will both feel a deficiency of power as a result and, of course, it’s impossible to build a new nuclear power plant quickly. Vilnius faces a dilemma: to buy energy from abroad (such as by increasing Russian gas acquisitions) or to reactivate its own generating capacities. Lithuanian energy experts argue for importing what’s needed and Ukraine is certainly keen to step in. Mutually beneficial tariffs could be set for energy transit through Belarus; Minsk is ready to transit cheap Ukrainian energy to the North while buying some for itself.
Another potential area for co-operation is oil. Belarus and Ukraine depend immensely on imported Russian supplies but alternative sources would lower the economic risk of being bound to one supplier. Belarus is greatly interested in the Ukraine–Poland initiative — referred to as pipeline Odessa-Brody. Russian oil is currently pumped from the ‘Druzhba’ line to the Ukrainian harbour of ‘Yuzhny’ but another option is for Azerbaijani oil to be supplied to the Georgian harbour of Supsa, transported by tankers to ‘Yuzhny’ harbour in Odessa, and on to Europe by pipeline Odessa–Brody. In Chernigov, Mr. Lukashenko referred to his talks with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, noting that the pipe should be used to transport Caspian oil. Belarus is interested in transit possibilities to the Baltic oil terminals, as well as processing Caspian oil at its own oil-processing plants in Mozyr and Novopolotsk. The lion’s share of its products is supplied to the EU.
The participation of both states in the Eastern Partnership Programme of the EU opens new possibilities for Belarus and Ukraine. Judging by Mr. Lukashenko’s meeting with Mr. Yushchenko in Gomel — and the results of the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague — Minsk and Kiev aspire to co-ordinating their positions. Belarusian and Ukrainian goods seek free access to EU markets. Moreover, Minsk and Kiev are eager to develop the energy sphere and transit infrastructure under the auspices of the EU. They seek mutually beneficial projects — such as the 9th transport corridor, which is having a billion Euros invested in its development. The transit artery requires modernisation to ensure a higher rate of turnover. President Lukashenko is confident that the project will be realised; Ukraine and Belarus are ready.
There is mutual political will to realise other major joint initiatives. Minsk underlines that bilateral co-operation between Belarus and Ukraine within the Eastern Partnership is not designed to exclude anyone. Belarus–Ukraine projects in the spheres of energy and transit are based only on national economic interests.