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Lukashenko or sanctions — Who is pushing Belarus towards Russia?

Pavel Latushka: Deputy head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, Head of the Anti-Crisis Management, Ambassador

Many people believe that sanctions are the primary factor pushing Belarus closer to Russia. However, a closer examination of economic indicators suggests that we should reconsider this assertion.

Discussion on sanctions and occupation

In discussions about sanctions, the question of whether Belarus should be considered as occupied territory often arises. This aspect is significant because sanctions against business entities registered in occupied territories are typically more stringent than those imposed on the territory of the occupier. The examples of Crimea and the "DPR" support this argument.

In this context, there are no valid arguments to weaken sanctions against the so-called "DPR" in order to avoid pushing Donetsk further into the arms of the Kremlin. There are numerous reasons for this, including the open borders between the occupier and the occupied territory, which would allow the occupier to exploit any loophole to circumvent sanctions. Therefore, those who claim that our country is occupied and simultaneously argue for the weakening of sanctions because they push Belarus even closer to Russia must consider this circumstance before making unequivocal statements.

Economic dependence on Russia

With the exception of certain industries, most of Belarus' economy has long been closely tied to Russia, even without sanctions. This has been a goal of Lukashenko since his election program in 1994, and it remains the strategy that the dictator has adhered to for the past 30 years. There is nothing new here, and functionally, his approaches have not changed since 2020.

Industries such as oil refining, the chemical industry, mechanical engineering, and metallurgy are simply not competitive in their traditional sales markets without the supply of energy resources from Russia. Therefore, it is impossible to further strengthen ties with Russia in these sectors.

Increase in imports from the EU

Despite claims that sanctions are “pushing” Belarus towards Russia, imports from the EU reached record levels in 2023, contradicting the notion of a complete economic shift towards Russia.

Loss of trade ties with Ukraine

For instance, in 2019, Russia accounted for 49% of Belarus’ trade turnover, while Ukraine accounted for over 8%. However, last year, Russia’s share increased to 60%, while Ukraine’s share dropped to 0%. Where did the trade turnover with Ukraine go? It shifted towards trade relations between Belarus and Russia.

The complete loss of the largest portion of non-Russian exports occurred not primarily due to sanctions, but as a result of the treacherous attack on Ukraine and, regrettably, our country’s involvement in the aggression, which led to a complete halt in trade with Ukraine.

Index analysis

In addition to speculative conclusions from analysts, there are objective indicators, indices that illustrate the concentration of a country’s exports and imports. By analyzing these indices, the following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Trade concentration has been unacceptably high for a long time, even prior to the imposition of sanctions, and is significantly higher than the corresponding parameters for Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

  2. Before 2020, there was a trend towards increasing concentration, while Belarus’ neighbors exhibited a declining trend. In other words, our neighbors diversified their markets, but despite Lukashenko’s teleconferencing, Belarus did not.

  3. In 2021, when sanctions were introduced, trade concentration did not increase; instead, it decreased. This means that, contrary to expectations, the markets to which Belarusian goods are supplied expanded.

To claim that sanctions increase trade dependence on Russia, three conditions must be met: low trade concentration prior to the sanctions, an increase in concentration after the imposition of sanctions, and a direct link between this increase and the introduction of sanctions.

In reality, all three conditions are absent.


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