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Rumours of Russian Customs’ boycott of Ukrainian goods groundless

August 15, 2013, 16:43 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, August 15 (Itar-Tass) - Ukraine’s emotional claims over the current situation at Russian customs checkpoints which, it claims, have in fact launched a wholesale boycott of Ukrainian goods on the way to Russia has no official confirmation. Ukrainian political scientists, just as many Russian mass media, have interpreted these charges as evidence of Moscow’s intention to put pressures on Kiev on the eve of the signing of agreements with the EU and thereby to persuade Ukraine to join the European Union. However, as it has turned out, complaints by Ukrainian businesses are largely groundless. As for Russian experts, they remark that Moscow is just protecting its economic interests, while Ukrainian producers have just been fanning tensions to politicize the situation for the sake of their own commercial interests.

The Federation of Ukrainian Employers has declared that Russia’s Customs Service put all Ukrainian exporters on the list of risky ones without any exceptions starting from 00:00 hours of August 14. Now their cargoes are liable to comprehensive and thorough checks on the border (unloading, inspection and reloading).

“Starting from 00:00 hours of August 14 all of Ukraine’s exporters were added to the first four scores of Ukrainian enterprises that were included in the risk profile of the Russian Customs Service’s risk management system last July. In fact this measure is tantamount to the full suspension of Ukrainian export indefinitely, which may last weeks or even months,” the statement runs.

The Federation of Ukrainian Employers, which is led by businessman Dmitry Firtash, has already asked Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov to help resolve at the government level the problems Russian exporters have encountered as soon as possible.

However, Ukraine’s Ministry of Taxes and Levies to which all customs checkpoints are subordinate has not confirmed the FUE claims the alleged boycott of Russian goods caused problems. “We have checked several customs posts on the border with the Russian Federation. They are working as usual,” the Tax and Levies Ministry’s spokesman, Andrei Sokolov, has told the Ukrainian television news program Vesti.

Sokolov said there were no lines of trucks, reportedly not allowed to cross into Russia. “There are two or three vehicles at the most at each checkpoint. We have no information at Russia has banned all imports from Ukraine,” he added.

Russia has not blocked the supplies of Ukrainian goods or compiled any risk lists of Ukrainian enterprises that export their products to Russia, Russian Federal Customs Service spokeswoman Natalya Karasyova has said.

“We have no risk lists,” she said. Customs clearance is proceeding in keeping with the applicable legislation. “Cargo inspections are strictly in line with the Customs Code (five percent of cargoes are examined),” Karasyova said.

In the meantime, the chairman of the State Duma’s committee for CIS affairs, Leonid Slutsky, said that all of the problems that may be arising with Ukrainian goods at Russian customs are due to red-tape and bureaucracy, because Ukraine is not a member of the Customs Union.

A Russian government staff official is quoted by the daily Vedomosti as saying on Wednesday that no political decisions to restrict Ukrainian import had been made.

Ukrainian politicians see the Federal Customs Service’s decision as exclusively political. In their opinion this is Russia’s weapon of choice to punish its near neighbours for European integration and “invite” them to join the Customs Union.

“Russia’s actions are largely political, not economic,” the president of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Anatoly Kinakh, said on Wednesday.

Russian experts disagree.

Ukraine’s federation of employers launched this campaign on purpose and many mass media were quick to buy such untrue statements by its chief, Dmitry Firtash, the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, says with certainty. “There are no exceptionally long lines of trucks on the border. Everything proceeds as planned. Russia has begun to make preparations in advance for putting Ukrainian goods on the lists of items liable to comprehensive checks. The reason is all goods coming from the EU are subjected to such clearance procedures. When Ukraine signs the free trade zone agreement with the EU in November, European goods may start pouring into Russia without any customs duties paid,” he told ITAR-TASS.

Firtash has a very special reason to be personally interested. He owns chemical enterprises in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe, so he would like to have a free hand to market in Russia his products manufactured in Europe, Zharikhin claims.

Moscow has repeatedly addressed Kiev with invitations to join the Customs Union since 2011. In 2015 the Customs Union is to be converted into a Eurasian Economic Union. Should Ukraine be its member as an exporter of industrial products, that future association would have a firmer foothold on the world market, where Russia and Kazakhstan sell mostly hydrocarbons.

Until last May Ukraine had been able to afford certain manoeuvring between Brussels and Moscow, but this summer, when it became pretty clear that Kiev would prefer to stay out of the Customs Union, Russia began to gradually reformat its economic relations with Ukraine.

“Russia has long warned and explained the net effect of Ukraine’s European integration - closed borders and trade barriers by the Customs Union. This is beginning to happen already now,” the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes economist Alexander Koshik, of the Kiev-based Centre for Political Studies and Conflictology, as saying.

“Russia’s actions give our authorities much food for thought about what lies in store for us. Incidentally, it is very good the government has published a draft agreement of association and free trade zone with the EU. Those economists who have had a chance to read it cannot but throw up hands in despair. Euro-integration, the way it is going to be implemented, will ruin whole industries of the Ukrainian economy. It will not open up new markets for us, but narrow the existing ones. The Europeans are in no mood of letting us access their markets. On the contrary, they are trying to get unhampered access to the Ukrainian market (the world’s 25th in terms of import). For its part Russia is merely demonstrating what closed borders would mean and what everything would look like after the agreement with the EU has been inked.