Exclusive - Belarus Becoming Hot Spot for Russia Transits

Air freight tonnage originating in western countries is increasingly landing at Minsk airport. Truck convoys, coming from Poland or Lithuania are rolling into Belarus with their vehicles fully loaded with foodstuffs. Most of these goods are standing on Moscow’s sanction lists. But thanks to the Belarus loophole they are transited across the Russian border. 

Transits bound for Russia are going through the roof at Minsk airport lately  /  source: Fisher
Transits bound for Russia are going through the roof at Minsk airport lately / source: Fisher

Who has seen a lemon tree in Belarus?
Up to now Belarus hasn’t been noted for producing lemons, grapefruits or pineapples on its own territory due to unfavorable climate circumstances. This also accounts for swimming crabs, living mussels, lobsters, shells or oysters since the east European country encircled by Poland, Lithuania and Russia doesn’t possess any direct access to the sea.
It is therefore all the more extraordinary that these types of foodstuff have lately experienced an enormous boom in trade – as transit data documents prove.
This Belarus economic miracle is triggered by Moscow’s counter sanctions against the EU by banning imports of dairy products, meat, vegetables, fruits or seafood products coming from the west for at least one year. This in response to the diverse sanction lists imposed by Brussels and Washington as a reaction to the Crimea annexation by Russia and Putin’s ongoing support of the insurgents in the eastern Ukraine. 


Ironically Belarus, one of the few remaining intimate friends of the Putin government, is ridiculing Moscow’s sanctions imposed on EU originating foodstuff.

Good to have friends!
Belarus is massively benefitting from this explosive political constellation whipping up emotions and the embargo policy both sides are engaged in. Therefore, importing barred goods, re-packing and exporting them to Russia is the name of today’s game in Dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s empire. A policy that bypasses the official sanctions and enriches many Belarus trading companies, forwarding agents, and individuals, including bribed customs officials.

Why is Belarus fast developing into a transit point for products originating in western countries and destined to Russia but standing either on the Kremlin’s or the EU’s sanction list?
One reason is the geographical location of the state that directly borders Russia which makes it quite easy to get shipments from Belarus uncontrolled into neighboring territory behind the virtual fence. But even if the goods are checked at the border or at airports, when transported by plane, there won’t be hardly any consequences. This is so, because Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan are part of the 2010 incepted Eurasian Customs Union that grants access of products to the territory of the three member states if they comply with the trade regulations agreed between the three.
Russia is of enormous importance for the Belarusian economy since it accounts for 40 percent of all exports and 50-plus percent of imports.

Source:  MSQ
Source: MSQ

Re-labeling and new documentation makes anything possible.
The big question is if Mediterranean cuttlefish, Italian olives or tomatoes from the Canary Islands meet the trade requirements of the eastern Customs Union. Normally, the answer would be no. But when relabeled and equipped with new documents at the 3,470 sqm comprising cargo warehouse at Minsk National Airport after having arrived by plane and thus made compatible with formal customs criteria of the Eurasian triad they can continue their journey to Moscow, St. Petersburg or Yekaterinburg without any risk.
Particular loophole is a separate storage area in which transits bound to final destinations in Russia or Kazakhstan are moved that don’t require special storage procedures, thus bypassing the local customs office uncontrolled.
Similarly, EU imports arriving by truck are processed. This way, no sanction is officially breached; no penalties must be imposed by the authorities.
Russian consumers still get their western produce despite the fact that they are standing on the Kremlin’s embargo list, and Belarus has secured itself a new source of income thanks to the trade barriers set up by the east and west.

Patchy penalties
Last, but not least, western exporters probably are catching on fast to this loophole and who knows how many will officially be exporting all these embargoed goods to Belarus.
The old story is that sanctions are made to be broken.
It seems that this is the case here as well.
Who is getting hurt then by the sanctions? Seems to be only very few.
Closing word of a cargo airline executive: “sanctioned goods sent by air find their way into Russia in one way or another.”

Heiner Siegmund  /  John Mc Donagh

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