Is Belarus laying a trap with grain transit offer?

Is Belarus laying a trap with grain transit offer?
Minsk has offered to allow Ukraine's grain to transit its territory to get to LIthuanian ports for export. What is Lukashenko up to? / AFP
By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2022

On December 9, Belarus’ Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Ambrazevich met UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, to relay a message from Minsk. According to the UN, Ambrazevich said that Belarus would allow the transit of Ukrainian grain through Belarus to Lithuania ports with no preconditions.

However, Ambrazevich also “reiterated” his government’s request to be able to export its own fertiliser products through Lithuania’s ports, which are currently under sanctions.

On February 1, Lithuania terminated its transport agreement between the state-owned railway company Lithuanian Railways and Belarusian potash giant Belaruskali citing national security reasons. Since then, further sanctions and the war in Ukraine have hindered Belarus from getting its potash out to international markets throughout the year. Potash fertilisers constitute 10% of the country’s exports and is a vital foreign currency earner for the regime.

Pressed by the rapidly increasing sanctions, Lukashenko in early June suggested that Ukraine might transport its grain to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda through Belarus in exchange for the lifting of some Western sanctions. The idea was strongly rejected both by Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Scholz and Lithuanian President Nausèda.

Ambrazevich's suggestion from Belarus comes at an interesting time. Lukashenko is claiming that the West is backing down on sanctions; in general, Belarusian officials claim that their country's economy is not suffering from Western sanctions; Lukashenko and his officials have repeatedly claimed that their transport cooperation with Russian ports are going well.

Yet Ambrazevich was sent to relay the largest political concession proposed by the Lukashenko regime since 2020.

After the protests against Lukashenko began in 2020, the West began imposing sanctions packages on the Lukashenko regime and actively supported the country’s political opposition, independent media and Polish minority against political repressions.

The escalatory strategy for Lukashenko to get revenge and his means to stay in power have shocked many. From forcing down the Ryanair international airliner to luring tens of thousands of migrants into Belarus and using military force to get them across the border into the EU; and even actively supporting Russia’s full scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, after having remained neutral in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014.

While Ambrazevich certainly hoped for sanctions relief to accompany a possible transit of Ukrainian grain through Belarus, the sheer statement made by him is surprising. For the first time since 2020, the Belarusian regime is clearly signalling that the current situation is affecting them so negatively that they are at least officially willing to give something up without preconditions.

But Belarus’ neighbours are tired of the regime’s toxicity. Upon hearing the news from the UN, Lithuania’s president called Ambrazevich’s statement “a trap” and an “ old song we have been hearing for quite a long time.”

Nauseda does not believe that Belarus can be trusted, since it is allowing “Russians to do whatever they want on its territory,” adding that “We continue to hear unsubstantiated requests to ease sanctions. We do not see any possibility for this.”

According to Nauseda, Ukrainian grain currently comes to Lithuanian and other European Union ports without any problems through Poland. On Monday, December 12 the Odesa harbour could not carry out its cargo operations due to Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

According to Nauseda, Ukraine doesn’t trust Belarus’ offer either; however, if Ukraine continues to have further export problems due to Russian attacks on its infrastructure, the offer may sound more tempting. Poland and Lithuania are unlikely to accept any letting down on sanctions against Belarus and will probably rather invest in building out rail transport through Poland if more Ukrainian shipments are delayed or fail.



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