2021 Saw Trade with Belarus Soar
Trade with Belarus reached an all-time high in 2021. Exports to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania during this period were close to record-breaking, a move that conflicted with the three Baltic nations’ political stance against Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Countries Seek Sanctions on Lukashenko
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have taken strong and aggressive stances against the actions of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, particularly following 2020’s presidential elections that were deemed to be fraudulent and fixed to ensure the victory of Lukashenko, who is widely regarded to have a “dictator” status. The three countries have since refused to recognize him as a leader, and have been at the forefront of calling for sanctions against Lukashenko’s violent actions including crackdowns on political opposition and peaceful protest.
The three Baltic countries kept the issue of Lukashenko on the agenda for global organizations such as the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations (UN). They set a good example by initiating a national and regional response, which led to the blacklisting of over 150 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko himself.
For almost three decades, Lukashenko’s continued to offend many countries in the EU and the West. In 2020, the Belarusian president went a step further and diverted a plane carrying a political opponent from Greece to Lithuania. In response, the EU imposed sanctions, and Belarus responded by opening its borders to allow migrants in from the Middle East and Africa, which led to Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania declaring a state of emergency as they worked to prevent illegal crossings through their borders. Riot police and the military were sent in to enforce security, which led to confrontations. Since then, Lukashenko has taken actions to worsen the situation by threatening to cut off shipments of natural gas that travel via Belarus from Russia to Europe.
Despite the Tense Situation, Trade Booms with Belarus
Amidst the tense and worsening political situation, reports of increasing trade between Belarus and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have emerged, undermining the political efforts the Baltic countries have made against Belarus. In the first ten months of 2021, exports from Belarus to Estonia were more than double what they were in 2020, totaling €522 million. Exports from Belarus to Lithuania rose by 50%, reaching €1 billion, and exports to Latvia rose by two-thirds, arriving at €407 million.
The three counties are suffering a backlash from their failure to be consistent in their relations with Belarus. Lithuania’s government came close to collapse following the release of these figures and its foreign and transport ministers resigned from their positions, although their resignations were rejected. The fact that Lithuania’s state-owned railway continues to transport Belarusian potash is one of many emerging facts that will hurt its fight against Lukashenko.
Trade and politics will always be deeply intertwined and the situation between Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania provides a perfect example of this. It is unsure how trading relations will continue between the countries. It is possible that the embarrassment will cause the three countries to cut off Belarus, but cutting well established and growing trade ties is difficult to achieve.
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