Deputy Director for European Cooperation,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus
While essentially an Eastern European country Belarus has seen its history closely intertwine with that of the Nordic/Baltic region for many centuries. The strategic location at the commercial crossroads and watershed of the Baltic and Black seas predetermined this land’s role of a bridge between worlds and an integral part of their historic narratives.
The past distinctly echoes in today’s Belarus. Of all the post-Soviet nations it is the closest to the Nordic/Baltic average human development and GDP per capita indices and has one of the most open economies in the area. An important destination for “Made in Belarus”, the region accounts for 13 per cent of the country’s trade and 15 per cent of its export. Almost half of Belarus’ sales to the European Union is consumed by its eight Baltic Member States.
Seaports continue to be vital gateways to Belarus’ exports. The country supplies 1/3 of all transit freight in Klaipeda and around 2/3 of all cargo transported by the Lithuanian rail. Significant volumes also pass through Ventspils and Riga. In this way the landlocked nation secured itself a firm foothold in the Baltic and an outreach to overseas markets while contributing massively to its neighbours’ transit revenues.
Almost half of Belarus’ sales to the European Union is consumed by its eight Baltic Member States.
The Baltic – Black Sea link remains an important element in the country’s economic calculus. The Zubr (meaning bison) and Viking multinational cargo train projects connect Belarus, on the one hand, with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and on the other – with Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Georgia and Turkey. The ancient but still partly operational Е40 waterway increasingly catches the eye of the governments in Minsk, Warsaw, Kyiv, Ankara, but also the EU and European financial institutions. Once fully restored the 2000-km long natural corridor running from Kherson in Ukraine to Polish Gdansk would offer a cheap alternative to land transport and radically improve regional logistics.
The advent of the “One Belt – One Road” (OBOR) initiative to join ultimately with the EU’s TEN-T network emphasizes the country’s bridging role. An important OBOR hub, the Chinese-Belarus Great Stone industrial park taking shape next to Minsk turns into a focal point for numerous innovative and multinational industries. With European stakeholders like Germany’s Duisburger Hafen AG, it opens wide and attractive prospects for connectivity and synergies in the EU market. At the same time the National High-Tech Park rises to the crest of the global digital trend with over 90 percent of its USD 1 bn worth of exports targeting some of the most demanding IT-producers in the EU and the US. Business mobility and people-to-people contacts in general benefit from a 30-days visa waiver for nationals of 74 countries, i.a. all EU Member States, flying to Minsk. Further flexibilities are envisaged by the Belarus – EU Visa Facilitation Agreement under preparation.
EU-funded cross-border cooperation programmes support numerous partnerships between Belarus and its three Baltic neighbours, on topics ranging from border security and disaster management to health, culture, education and environment.
The country is increasingly visible in some of the key areas of multilateral cooperation in the Baltic/Nordic area. It is a full-fledged stakeholder in the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) and Partnership for Transport and Logistics. By contributing 2 million euro to NDEP and signing agreements with the Nordic Investment Bank and Nordic Environment Finance Corporation the country can draw significant international funds and expertise for its projects with an added value for the Baltic ecosystem. EU-funded cross-border cooperation programmes support numerous partnerships between Belarus and its three Baltic neighbours, on topics ranging from border security and disaster management to health, culture, education and environment. Six of the Belarusian universities engage with partner institutions through the Baltic Sea Region University Network.
Belarus increasingly uses its observer status in structures like the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the Northern Dimension to explore further cooperation opportunities and partake in collective responses to modern challenges.
According to the 2018 CBSS Vision Group report, “Belarus is geographically part of the Baltic Sea Region. Belarus and the CBSS Member States can jointly provide a substantial contribution to regional cooperation […]. We therefore recommend stepping up practical cooperation which may lead in the future to a concrete consideration of Belarus becoming a member of the CBSS”.
The country is ready for the challenge and will continue building up its role as part of the CBSS family for the benefit of a wider Baltic Sea region.
 Human Development Index (UN, 2017), GDP per capita PPP (World Bank, 2017), trade % of GDP (World Bank, 2017).
 Belstat, 2018. Counting Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast, Karelian Republic and Leningrad Oblast.
Expert article 2539