Apr 20, 2022
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Railway communication between Belarus and Crimea resumes

When the future of Ukraine as a geopolitical reality was in question…

Belarus resumes railway communication with the Crimea. This was stated by the Chairman of the Board of the Republican Union of Tourism Industry Philip Guly. According to him, we are talking about two trailer cars, which will start running from May 26.

The Belarusian and Russian railways have not yet officially announced the start of a direct connection on the Minsk-Simferopol route, but the Simferopol-Passenger and Simferopol-Gruzovoy stations have already appeared in the timetable system on the website of the Belarusian Railways, which indicates practical preparations for the launch of a direct connection between Belarus and Crimea.

A few weeks earlier, Russian Ambassador to Minsk Boris Gryzlov announced the possible launch of a railway connection between Belarus and Crimea. According to him, we are talking about extending the route of the Smolensk-Simferopol train to Minsk.

Rail traffic on this route was interrupted in 2014, after the peninsula was reunited with the Russian Federation, and Ukraine cut off direct rail traffic. Then, for several years, Crimea, in the sense of a railway connection with it, remained an “island” that had no railway connection with either the Russian Federation or Ukraine.

After the opening in 2018 of the automobile, and in 2019-2020, of the railway communication along the Crimean bridge across the Kerch Strait, trains from Belarus to Crimea also did not go, Belarus then evaded official recognition of the Russian ownership of Crimea. The reasons were the multi-vector course of Minsk, its attempts to balance between Russia and the West, the unwillingness of the Belarusian authorities to fall under Western sanctions and spoil relations with Ukraine, which remained the second trade and economic partner of Belarus after the Russian Federation.

After the political crisis of 2020 in Belarus, most of these arguments fell away. Relations with the West began to fall apart, Belarus fell under sanctions, but strengthening ties with the Russian Federation became a matter of survival for the Belarusian political system.

As a result, the issue of recognition of the Russian Crimea by Belarus was again on the agenda; this is a kind of litmus test for the Belarusian-Russian allied relations. A. Lukashenko spoke more than once about the possibility of recognizing Crimea over the past year, but these statements did not go into practice. It is possible that the Belarusian leadership was held back from taking decisive steps by its unwillingness to spoil relations with Ukraine, whose importance as a sales market and transit destination for Belarusian products increased after Lithuania blocked the Klaipeda port for Belarus.

However, with the launch of a special military operation (SVO) by Russia, this argument also disappeared. It became clear that Belarus would not be able to maintain relations with the Kiev regime. And the future of Ukraine as a geopolitical reality is in question.

The resumption of railway communication can be considered a trial balloon for the subsequent full-scale restoration of ties between Belarus and Crimea.

Two trailer cars from Minsk to Simferopol, of course, cannot yet be called a full-fledged restoration of transport communication. Until 2014, a large number of trains ran from Belarus to Crimea, which connected Minsk and regional Belarusian centers with Simferopol, Feodosia, Evpatoria. Travel time was about a day, trains went by the shortest routes, mainly through Gomel – Sumy – Kharkov – Zaporozhye – Melitopol. There were other options (through Kherson and Nikolaev).

The main difficulty of the route bypassing Ukraine through the Crimean bridge is a significant increase in travel time – in fact, it doubles. And the point is not only the increase in the length of the route, but also the fact that the Voronezh-Rostov railway line, along which Belarusian trains will run, is overloaded with traffic going to the south of Russia (not only to the Crimea, but also to the resorts of the Krasnodar Territory).

The price of tickets is also a serious concern. Trips on this route will be carried out at interstate rates pegged to the Swiss franc, which leads to their rise in price. This is a long-standing problem of passenger traffic between Belarus and Russia, still unresolved within the framework of the Union State, which has already led to a significant reduction in the number of trains between the two countries.

To understand the absurdity of the situation in the field of pricing, one can recall the well-known paradox of the Kaliningrad-Moscow train: it is more expensive to travel from Kaliningrad to Minsk than from Kaliningrad to Smolensk, which is further away; in the first case, the ticket is sold at the interstate tariff, and in the second – at the domestic Russian one.

However, all this does not mean that trains from Belarus to Crimea bypassing Ukraine are impossible or will not be popular.

First, there is already experience with Minsk-Adler and Minsk-Anapa trains, which have been operating on longer routes since the late 1990s and do not suffer from a shortage of passengers.

Secondly, many international tourist destinations are now closed or difficult to access for Belarusians, and the demand for trips to Crimea may increase significantly. Under these conditions, the establishment of a direct rail link is vital. This means that there is hope that the two Minsk-Simferopol trailer cars will soon “grow” to the size of a full-fledged train.

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