External forces of convergence

The heads of government of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on Friday for the first time in a year and a half met in person in Minsk to discuss integration plans and the economic consequences of the pandemic. In addition, the prime ministers signed several documents aimed at solving specific problems of the union, in particular, an agreement on cooperation in the field of employment. Taking into account the place of the meeting, the event acquired an additional foreign policy component – against the background of the recent incident with the Ryanair plane, the Belarusian side additionally argued the need for integration into the CIS by “the work of external forces”.

For the first time since the end of 2019, the prime ministers of the CIS countries met in person – a meeting of the heads of government was held in Minsk on Friday. Although this meeting fell on the anniversary year for the Commonwealth – the CIS celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2021 – Friday’s meeting did not look festive or particularly solemn. One of the reasons for this is the aggravation of the foreign policy situation against the background of the incident with the Ryanair plane heading to Vilnius, but making an emergency landing in Minsk, and the EU sanctions that threaten Belarus in this connection (see Kommersant of May 26).

The Belarusian side was actively developing the “external” theme.

Before the meeting, the heads of government met with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, who said that the CIS countries need to resolve issues of developing a common economic space in the near future, otherwise there will be no need to talk about the effectiveness of the union.

One of the arguments in favor of integration is the purposeful work carried out by external forces against the Commonwealth, ”the Belarusian president said.

The decision of a number of EU countries to suspend flights with Belarus or recommendations for airlines not to enter the airspace of the republic influenced the composition of the participants in Friday’s meeting. The government delegation of Moldova was unable to fly to Minsk due to the imposed restrictions on flights to Belarus. Therefore, Chisinau was represented in Minsk at the ambassador’s level, and the acting Prime Minister of Moldova, Aurelii Chocoy, spoke at the meeting in the format of a video message.

However, the issues on the agenda of the meeting concerned exclusively the internal affairs of the CIS – at first the prime ministers discussed them in a narrow format behind closed doors. First of all, they talked about the economic consequences of the pandemic: as a result of the event, Prime Minister of Belarus Roman Golovchenko said that in 2020 the total GDP of the CIS countries decreased by 3%, the volume of investments in fixed assets – by 6.1%, imports – by 8.2 %, export – by 18.3%. “It is necessary to fundamentally reconsider the approaches to our interaction, abandon the practice of unconditional protectionism in favor of further developing trade, removing existing restrictions, enhancing multilateral ties and increasing potential cooperation,” the prime minister said. Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee Sergei Lebedev called the intensification of interaction with the EAEU, which includes five out of ten Commonwealth countries, as an opportunity for economic rapprochement between the CIS countries.

  • In the meantime, the countries are limited to solving point problems – on Friday, in particular, an agreement was signed to prevent and suppress the use of false trademarks and geographical indications and a document on cooperation in the field of geodesy, cartography and cadastre.
  • The association also agreed on joint work to counter the spread of infectious diseases, on cooperation in the field of sanitary protection – the head of Rospotrebnadzor Anna Popova spoke on these issues (already at the beginning of her report, the meeting was closed from the press).
  • The most ambitious of the documents signed on Friday looks like the agreement on cooperation between the CIS countries in the field of employment – it is aimed at creating a common labor market.

Measures include the introduction of an organized recruitment and recruitment system, the creation of national information portals to promote employment, and the launch of a system for mutual recognition of employee competencies.

Evgeniya Kryuchkova, Minsk