‘Brother country’ breakaway, but animosity lingers

Written by Staff Writer

Bucharest, Romania – It’s been a banner year for trade between Belarus and Romania, with the trade turnover between the two countries rising by an impressive 25.2% to $1.13 billion.

However, relations have not always been so cordial. Many of the country’s thousands of citizens from Belarus emigrated to the neighboring country back in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed.

As a result, the ex-Soviet country is still thought of by many Romanians as their “brother country.”

Fast forward two decades and countries in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation are embroiled in a standoff over the Ukraine crisis.

Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s support for separatist militias, first in eastern Ukraine, and then in the south of the country, sent relations between the countries spiraling downwards.

Strained ties with Moscow

This summer, diplomatic ties between Russia and Belarus reached breaking point after Moscow suspended import of meat, fruit and vegetables produced in Belarus. It has blocked all the black market and exporting of Belarusian products to Russia.

Later, Belarus announced it would ban construction materials and financial services imports from Russia.

Clearly, relations between the countries are tense, but experts think they will not hold for very long.

The crisis in Eastern Europe sparked by Russia’s actions have many countries alarmed.

The ongoing crisis in Eastern Europe sparked by Russia’s actions have many countries alarmed. File photo

“Things are very tense and very fragile, but I think their relationship will go through periods of tension and instability but I don’t think in the long term that this relationship will be affected significantly,” said Natasha Stepak, Romanian specialist at Middle East Institute.

Stepak expects Belarus to remain a key diplomatic link between the countries but emphasizes that the Russian sanctions will have their effect.

“They probably want to maintain strong relations with Russia but they understand that there will be practical obstacles. And the more economically strengthened Russia becomes, the more likely that trade links will be disrupted,” she said.

Russian protests

This year, Belarus has been hit by the so-called Tsar’s Coup, as Russians took to the streets to protest the alleged violation of human rights by President Alexander Lukashenko, including claims of discrimination against ethnic Russians in the country.

The protests on May 12 also saw video footage go viral showing a brawl between a crowd of angry men and the law enforcers.

Despite the widespread demonstrations, the government appears to have opted to use less-than-democratic tactics in maintaining control.

This summer, the city of Minsk has seen calls for a return to martial law. Many are convinced that the president has been attacked from the outside.

Most recently, the authorities announced that they are also attempting to hold demonstrations in solidarity with the people of the Black Sea resort city of Yalta.

It’s also believed that the struggle for freedom continues behind the scenes. The state-controlled media continues to depict Russia as a threat.

Actions, but not hatred

While anger and hostility are on the rise, analysts think this will be short-lived.

“If one reads the language of the Belarusian president it seems to be civil. It’s not ‘hatred against Russia’ but ‘self-defense’,” Stepak said.

Also, a number of dissidents from the region have been detained.

Despite the recent diplomatic tension between the countries, observers don’t think relations will get seriously bad in the near future.

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