Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded to this week’s closing of a key border crossing with Belarus by criticizing the Western sanctions against Moscow. “Let the sanctions work in our favour,” he said. Russia, meanwhile, is creating a “buffer zone” along the border, further separating parts of Ukraine from the rest of Russia.
But what exactly is happening here?
A tiny, insular Belarus is suffering great hardship from the crisis across its eastern border. A series of goods that used to flow freely – mostly agricultural goods from Russia – have been banned. Belarus has lost around $1 billion so far in sales of food and other products. In March, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Western sanctions were partially responsible for Belarus being left with “a shortage of electricity, people with no money in their accounts, no running water, no cars.”
Just as country has felt the pinch, so has its neighbour, Ukraine. When oil prices crashed in 2014, forcing Russia to ban all imports of Ukrainian products, the two countries turned to import substitution to ensure they wouldn’t be hurt by the crisis.
That has proved difficult. With Russia now banned from buying Ukrainian wheat, many regions of Ukraine have had to import the grain themselves. In recent months, the impoverished nation has seen grain prices rise to record highs. The export ban has now been lifted, but rising grain prices are pushing up the cost of everything else as well.