Belarus’ exports to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have reached or approached record levels, consolidating their trade relations, even as the three Baltic states took a hard line in sanctioning the regime of leader Alexander Lukashenko.
In the first 10 months of last year, Estonia’s imports from Belarus were more than twice the total in 2020 522 million euros This is more than one-fifth higher than the previous peak in 2018.Lithuania’s imports have increased by 50% compared to 2020, reaching 1 billion euros — A third higher than the previous high in 2015.Latvia increased by two-thirds from 2020 to 2020 407 million euros, Which is only 2% lower than the peak in 2011.
Experts say the rapid growth has exposed the tensions faced by the Baltic States between economic opportunities and geopolitical rhetoric.
“The Baltic States are finding that, even in the clearest of circumstances, it is not a simple matter to translate a strong and principled foreign policy stance into an effective sanctions regime,” said Tomas Jermalavicius, head of the International Research Department of Estonia. National Defense and Security Center. “Some domestic economic participants-even state-owned enterprise entities-will use all possibilities to find solutions when feasible.”
The Baltic States have become Loudest voice NATO has adopted a tough policy against Belarus and Russia, as Minsk has used in recent months Illegal immigrant Attempts to put pressure on neighboring countries Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
But economic considerations are triggering domestic political tensions.For example, the government of Lithuania Almost collapsed There was news last month that it continued to trade with Belarus in the face of US sanctions. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Transport of Lithuania submitted their resignation after exposing the damage to the country’s state-owned railway, but they were rejected. Still in transit Belarusian potash fertilizer.
Jermalavicius stated that logistics and transportation operators in all three Baltic countries will “always seize opportunities to obtain additional revenue… Without pressure from the government” because many people have close ties to Belarusian state-owned enterprises.
But Vidmantas Janurwess, chairman of the Federation of Lithuanian Industrialists, said that although the Baltic States need to comply with sanctions, it is “stupid” to block all imports, especially since the region is connected to China and Central Asia through Belarus.
“The most important thing is to stop the Lukashenko regime, not the people of Belarus. If we [Lithuania] This kind of cargo transshipment will not be carried out, it will only be transferred to another country,” he said.
One problem is that the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union on Belarus do not always overlap. The United States’ ban has no impact in the Baltic region because it lacks direct economic ties with the United States, even though it is their most important geopolitical ally.
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Jermalavicius said this situation raises a “reasonable question” as to whether the Baltic States are ready to “accept the economic opportunity costs associated with their official political posture and regional security needs.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia stated that the goods imported from Belarus are “transit goods” and have been carefully checked according to the sanctions list. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania pointed out that the EU has no legal basis to impose sanctions imposed by third countries.The Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: “Any ongoing trade [with Belarus] It is currently being implemented in accordance with the sanctions regime. “
Imports from Belarus to the three Baltic countries include wood products, fertilizers and oil.
Jermalavicius said that this is a “tragic lesson” for the Baltic countries, because “the margin of error in the current geopolitical environment is very small.”
He added: “They should not waste the valuable political capital and credibility they have accumulated in Washington for the hundreds of millions of euros their companies can earn from further dealings with Belarus.”