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The Belt and Road Without Lukashenka

Yesterday, on October 17, 2023, the dictator held two international meetings, one with the vice president of Iran and another with the head of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry. These meetings were portrayed by propaganda as an attempt to showcase Lukashenko as a significant international player with a crucial role in world politics.

Лукашенко с первым вице-президентом Ирана Мохаммадом Мохбером
Lukashenko with the first Vice-President of Iran Mohammad Mokhber Dezfuli

During the meetings, as usual, Lukashenko complained about sanctions and criticized the collective West. However, the significance of these meetings, which took place just yesterday, was merely propagandistic. Why?

On the same day, China's largest Belt and Road Forum commenced in Beijing, and surprisingly, the supposed great geopolitical figure, Lukashenko, wasn't even invited.

The Belt and Road Initiative is an international project led by China, aiming to improve existing trade and transport routes and establish new corridors connecting over 60 countries in Central Asia, Europe, and Africa. The initiative seeks to enhance trade relations between these nations and China. Currently, more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements within the framework of this initiative, including the Republic of Belarus.

The importance of this project for Belarus is evident from the fact that Belarus was the first Eastern European country to join it. Furthermore, as recently as September of this year, the dictator's Foreign Minister, Sergei Aleynik, expressed Belarus's intention to participate in the Belt and Road Forum, stating, "We will continue to promote all joint initiatives within the framework of Belt and Road," according to BelTA.

However, something went awry. Lukashenko was excluded from the invitation list. Several reasons could account for this, but one reason is evident - Lukashenko's actions have impeded the smooth operation of the Belt and Road Initiative. His involvement in election fraud, persistent repression, the migrant crisis, and complicity in aggression have resulted in severe sanctions imposed on his regime.

It is worth examining the migrant crisis more closely. As a response to the escalating influx of migrants, neighboring countries such as Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia issued an ultimatum to the dictator, demanding the complete closure of their borders. These countries had already shut down several border crossings for cargo traffic.

Given the ongoing war in Ukraine, the availability of alternative trade routes has been diminishing. Belarus had the potential to serve as a promising gateway for Chinese goods to reach Europe, but Lukashenko's actions have increasingly complicated Belarus' involvement in the Belt and Road project. Lukashenko's toxic image has led to the gradual closure of the Belarusian window for Chinese goods.

In 2022, the volume of cargo transported from China to Europe decreased by 133 thousand twenty-foot containers, which represented a 32.5% decline compared to 2021. Similarly, the volume of cargo transported from Europe to China also decreased by 36%. As a result, the total cargo turnover between China and Europe decreased by 34%. It is worth noting that even when compared to the Covid-19 year of 2020, which experienced reduced production due to the pandemic, the cargo volume in 2022 turned out to be smaller.

In the first half of 2023, the volume of rail traffic along the Eurasian corridor in the China-Europe connection decreased by 48%, returning to the pre-pandemic level of 2019. The total volume of goods sent and imported from China to Poland, where the majority of goods transit through Belarus, decreased by a significant 52% in the first nine months of 2023.

Regular traffic congestion is observed at the border railway crossings between Belarus and Poland. For instance, the average time required for loading and customs clearance at railway crossings between Poland and the Kaliningrad region of Russia is two and a half hours, while the same operations at the Belarusian crossing of Bruzgi-Kuznitsa typically take an average of 11 hours, and even longer at Brest-Malashevichi, averaging 21 hours. Hence, the Belarusian-Polish section of the border with Europe poses significant challenges for Chinese transit, and the blame for this primarily lies with Lukashenko.

It is important to note that the main reduction in the movement of goods occurred specifically on the part of the Silk Road that traverses Europe. In contrast, freight traffic along the trans-Caspian international transport route, which extends through China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and further through the Black Sea to Europe, experienced a two-and-a-half-fold increase from its inception in 2017 to 2022, reaching almost 1.5 million tons. In 2022, a total of 33.6 thousand twenty-foot containers were transported along this route, representing a 33% increase compared to the previous year in 2021.

Under the sanctions imposed on the regimes of Lukashenko and Putin, many European and American companies have discontinued transportation through Russia and Belarus. Consequently, Belarus is beginning to face challenges in the development of critical logistics infrastructure due to current restrictions and strained relations with the West.

One significant aspect affected by this is the ambitious project of the Great Stone industrial park, which was intended to become the primary logistics hub in the region. Foreign direct investment in the park reached its peak in 2019 at $114.9 million but sharply declined by 2022, amounting to only $14.4 million, a decrease of eight times. Investments in fixed capital also decreased, and the number of actively operating residents in the park has remained stagnant.

Therefore, the policies of Putin and Lukashenko have played a substantial role in reducing the transit of Chinese goods through Belarus. While China cannot easily disregard Putin due to its reliance on cheap oil and gas imports, the unprofitable Lukashenko finds himself in a precarious situation.

Given these circumstances, it is understandable why China would not invite such an individual or his representatives (excluding the head of the Committee of State Security, Vasily Gerasimov, who is not considered a genuine representative of the Republic of Belarus) to its forum. After all, Lukashenko has proven incapable of resolving their problems.

Furthermore, inviting a leader who is not recognized as the legitimate leader of their country by some attending countries would put the respected guests from those countries in an awkward position. As gracious hosts, the Chinese likely wanted to avoid such a situation and chose not to extend an invitation to the Kremlin's puppet, whom they do not hold in high regard.

At present, Putin is unable to come to Lukashenko's defense in Beijing. Lukashenko has lost his standing in Beijing, and this has been made abundantly clear to him.


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