Further degree of integration
By Igor Slavinsky
Politics is just one level of inter-state relations although, as the highest; a lack of understanding between leaders influences co-operation between countries. This is especially true when leading TV channels fan the flames of conflict. Speaking objectively, Belarusians and Russians have not felt the negative consequences of political disagreements. Trade has been developing steadily; in the first eight months of 2010, our turnover reached about $22bn — by the end of the year, it should reach the pre-crisis level.
The Kremlin has demonstrated responsibility, with Dmitry Medvedev personally initiating his meeting with Alexander Lukashenko. Sadly, the Russian side made a condition: to hold talks without media representatives. With this in mind, journalists could only judge results indirectly, from information spread by the Presidential Press Service, led by Pavel Legky. In his words, the talks were conducted in a ‘constructive and friendly atmosphere’.
During their two hour tete-a-tete, the presidents settled many disputes, including those regarding gas and oil — enabling Mr. Lukashenko, Mr. Medvedev and Nursultan Nazarbayev (who also joined them) to sign a whole package of documents on SES formation.
Mr. Lukashenko said that, initially, Belarus was quite anxious about the formation of the Customs Union and the SES, since our two partner states are rich in hydrocarbon resources. Their interests thus coincide in this sphere, contradicting the interests of Belarus (which needs to purchase almost all its key resources). Before signing the 17 SES-forming documents, Minsk insisted on abolishing duties on oil and oil products from Russia, since no duties are envisaged by a Customs Union. The President thanked Mr. Medvedev for settling these issues during their bilateral meeting. Belarus’ First Deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Semashko, also attended the complicated talks and later announced that Russia would not impose duties on the oil supplied to Belarus. A similar issue regarding gas supplies is being settled, with quotas abolished for an unlimited term. A mechanism of revenue distribution from ‘black gold’ processing is being outlined.
“We’re enabling our enterprises to freely compete within a Single Economic 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.” Belarus plans to ratify a package of documents on SES formation by January 1st. According to the President, the next stage envisages the establishment of the Eurasian Union, which is to focus on the solution of not just economic issues but a deeper level of integration.
Moscow newspapers pessimistically speculated upon the talks between Vladimir Putin and Sergei Sidorsky, which were held on the eve of the top level summit. Journalists believed that Minsk and Moscow would fail to agree... but they were wrong!
It’s probably impossible to reach a complete coincidence of positions in a single meeting. The Kremlin’s Protocol Service had prepared a table in front of Mr. Lukashenko, saying ‘The President of Belorussia’, although Mr. Medvedev had promised to use the official name of our country. Meanwhile, the documents dealing with the SES formation (which Mr. Lukashenko signed) mentioned ‘The President of Belarus’. Despite differing spellings, Belarusians and Russians remain close to each other in spirit; Belarus and Russia are the closest of allies. Whatever action Moscow takes in the western avenue of its foreign policy, the Wikileaks site has rather objectively demonstrated the essence of the West’s attitude towards Russia. This does not mean that Russian diplomacy will sit idle; rather, it should value its old friends even more, while paying attention to integration processes within the post-Soviet space.
The Russian President has admitted that, initially, he thought that the creation of the Customs Union and the SES 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 has been conducted almost daily, with videoconferences organised between Minsk, Moscow and Astana where personal meetings were impossible. This has enabled Mr. Medvedev to announce that our three states have managed to agree on forming the SES by the end of 2010, with all necessary documents signed. On January 1st, 2012, the Single Economic Space could become a reality. As Kazakhstan’s Head of State notes, Belarusian and Kazakh initiatives have been fully taken into consideration in forming a new, top level, integration structure.
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 common economic space’.
Mr. Medvedev’s plane, flying from Brussels, landed at Vnukovo Airport simultaneously with that of the Belarusian President. As information agencies have reported, he agreed on Russia’s joining the WTO. Previously, the joining of our three states as a single structure was debated. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has proposed that our Customs Union partners consider the formation of a common economic space between the Customs Union and the EU. The major argument is that the Union cannot exist alone; lacking 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.
The next day, Moscow hosted the CSTO and CIS summits. Previously, we had seen breakthroughs regarding economic integration across the post-Soviet space. This time, important decisions on security provision were made. The Belarusian delegation brought a large list of initatives to Moscow, aiming to strengthen the CSTO and lend it more weight. As at the CIS Summit, Minsk’s voice was authoritative.