Air war between Russia and Belarus
Airline flights between Minsk and Moscow stopped for four hours on March 26, as \"Rosaviatsia\" had recalled previously issued permission to travel to the Belarusian airline \"Belavia\".
After several hours of negotiations, the parties took time-out until 29 February. As a result of the meeting, held in Moscow on March 29, the airlines of Russia and Belarus will continue to operate under the old schedule of submitted applications until the May 10, 2012. During this time, negotiations will continue. Thus, albeit for a few hours, a new trade war in the CES took place.
Until March 26, when the conflict broke out, Aeroflot had served three flights daily from Moscow to Minsk, and the Russian company UTair had served one flight. The total number of hours per week for Russian companies was 28; the Belarusian national carrier Belavia had the same number of hours. Yet last year the Russian airline S7 Airlines was appointed to this line. For a number of reasons it could only begin flights in the new summer season, which started on 26 March. But with access to the route of S7 Airlines, Russia has obtained an additional, fifth, frequency, and the total number of hours increased to 35.
Belavia has seen the parity violation of the frequency agreements in the actions of the Russian side. As a result, \"Aeroflot\" was refused to coordinate one of the flights. And the aeronautical authorities of Russia, of course, had to defend the interests of \"Aeroflot\" by revoking Belavia’s permission to fly.
The basis for the conflict is purely commercial. Tickets of the Russian carriers are cheaper, with only 55% of the load, Belavia fears further reduction of the number of passengers. However, due to the limited number of aircraft and financial resources, it cannot increase the number or frequency of flights, insisting on parity.
At the same time, lower prices of the international carriers are often explained by the \"wholesale\" sales of services. We are talking about passengers flying from Minsk not to Moscow, but via Moscow to countries where Belavia planes do not or cannot fly. In fact, the lower prices of Russian carriers are one way of competing for transit passengers –not only with Belavia, but with transnational airlines. With this organization of passenger traffic, air travel is quite a natural desire of Russian airlines to increase frequencies. So, apparently, they are not concerned about the utilization of flights on the level of 55%.
It should be recalled that equality demanded by the Belarusian side has become a cause of conflicts with European and Turkish airlines. Since Belarus does not have such a close economic and political integration with the European Union and Turkey compared to Russia, the Belarusian side has always gained victory in previous wars, using a powerful \"administrative\" weapon. Experts point out one interesting detail concerning the aspirations of the Russian side to achieve liberalization of air transport to Belarus: Belarus raises exactly the same arguments to protect its own market, which Russia uses in negotiations with the EU. Russia is not ready to compete with the EU in the open sky.
Thus, in anticipation of the holiday season, the partner countries are advocating the interests of their big companies, trying to use ultimatums and administrative resources. The interests of the population, who could have cheaper tickets and more convenient connections to remote destinations, have been sacrificed in this battle.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.