Russia overlooks trade war

Russia itself prefers to ignore an unprecedented boom in Ukraine, caused by the blockade by the Russian customs service of all without exception Ukrainian goods (not just cheese or candies, as before).

The situation with the sudden scrutiny of Russian customs officers to all goods from Ukraine looks a little strange. Because initially this fact was reported not by a state agency, but a union of enterprises trading with Russia - previously they preferred to solve their problems one at a time, and always in silence.

At the same time, the authorities in Ukraine tried not to add "fuel to the fire" of already blazing conflict: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov spoke of the difference in the approaches with the countries of the Customs Union, and then about the excessive media attention to the issue. Ukrainian border guards reported that on the border on their side there are no delays. Railway officials also denied any information about the queues of trains at the border.

Russia itself has simply ignored the problem. The Federal Customs Service (FCS) in the evening on August 14 just did not know about the sudden resonance in Ukraine, according to the surprised reaction of the press service. It was only half an hour after studying the issue that the Russian side in comments to a Moscow-based Ukrinform reporter said that they had... no comments yet. The very next day the government of the Russian Federation commented on the issue - and only in order to disassociate themselves from the scandal.

Russian media in the reports on this topic quoted only Ukrainian officials, because they could not please their authorities with similar statements. Even a statement by the Russian government was made in an anonymous form, without citing its head. This is well understandable - after all if there is "wrong" reaction a negative can be blamed on subordinates.

The only Russian politician, who risked commenting on the scandal before receiving signals “from above”, was the head of the Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Leonid Slutsky. Although he acknowledged that the complexity is due to Ukraine's refusal to join the Customs Union, but assured that there is no politics here, and this is the usual bureaucratic mess and that all problems would be solved in the near future.

Notably, the Russian authorities created problems to Ukraine very cleverly, without violating the letter of the law, using only legally sound rules. The fact is that under the law the customs control is a set of checks (oral questioning or inspection of documents or customs inspection). Which of the forms should be used in each case - it is directly up to the customs service itself: either it is an individual post, or regional administration, or central office (including the FCS head).

It is still unknown at what level the decision was made to inspect the Ukrainian goods at the border with particular zeal. Most likely, this was done at such a high level that only a few were aware of these plans. Now Russian officials after the resonance are forced to work out their position, asking for additional advice and guidance from top officials.

This is proved by reports of some Russian media that the decision on the goods blockade was made "from above", that is, from Moscow. And who exactly can give an order to the head of the customs service? The government fenced off. The president remains. It can be assumed that Putin could express an opinion on the desirability of problems for Ukrainian exporters personally to FCS chief Andrei Belyaninov - because of their Soviet-era long-standing friendly relations, when they together served in the KGB.

It turns out that as there is no official document either from the government or from the president, the responsibility for the crisis on the border is entirely placed on the FCS. Which, as mentioned above, acts within its jurisdiction, not violating any international agreements and commitments: if we want - we introduce such level of risk identification, if we want - we introduce another one.

The Russian side is also not afraid of the World Trade Organization (WTO) - Ukrinform sources with Russian state agencies said that they analyzed the commitments made to the WTO, but they did not find violations because of close inspections.

The Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) is also unlikely to help Ukraine - a supreme body of the Customs Union, where Ukraine is so persistently called up to and where it recently received an observer status. Ukraine's newly appointed representative to the EEC Viktor Suslov promised to raise the issue to its members at a meeting on August 16 in Suzdal, but he is unlikely to count on assistance - it is beyond the scope of the EEC. The point is that the EEC is a supranational organization, and the situation on the border with Russia is a matter of national authority.

Regardless of the legal justification of the blockade and the objectives pursued by the initiators of the introduction of enhanced control over the Ukrainian goods, both Ukraine and Russia will suffer. Thus, European producers are preparing to take the place of Ukrainian goods in the Russian market. And the Russian side will get new reputation losses - "forcing Ukraine to friendship" will hit the remaining bits and pieces of the "Slavic brotherhood": after all, as the authorities keep silent, the Internet is full of angry calls of Ukrainian users to show Moscow an "economic vendetta" and boycott Russian goods.

Adapted from Ukrinform