Belarusian-Russian relations on the brink of another escalation

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April 22, 2016 18:32

On June 12th – 13th, Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus and Russia Union Chairman Sergei Naryshkin visited Belarus and met with President Lukashenko and Belarusian MPs.

Agreement on Russian oil supply to Belarus in Q3 is delayed, implying that the parties have not yet reached a compromise. In this regard, within the next 2 weeks the probability for political tensions with Russia increases.

By June 15 agreement on Q3 or Q3/Q4 Russia’s oil supply to Belarus was not signed, creating the preconditions for the escalation of bilateral political relations in the June’s remaining two weeks. The situation’s peculiarity is that Russia demonstrates a more flexible negotiating position: Russian senior officials recently visited Belarus (Medvedev, Patrushev, Naryshkin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (twice)).

However Belarus refuses to compromise. Belarusian authorities insist on the requested oil supply (23 million tons in 2013) and want to harmonize tariffs on Russian energy resources (they want gas prices harmonized and export duties on oil products abolished) and to have Russian arms deliveries in non-export packaging and on favorable terms.

Belarus has high demands, but refuses to carry out privatization in favor of Russian investors. It is also likely that the countries have not agreed on alleged Russia’s proposal to buy a certain territory (perhaps to accommodate the air base). During his meeting with Naryshkin Lukashenko quite unexpectedly said that “Belarus, especially Russia, do not need foreign territories”, and that “we are not going to give our territories away”.

Thus, negotiations might end-up in a deadlock when Russia exhausts its arguments and negotiator’s reputation is undermined (Minister Shoigu’s statement about Russian air base deployment was refuted by Lukashenko). In these circumstances, bilateral relations might escalate – on June 11th Russia’s Central Bank has already raised the issue of criminal risks linked with payments for goods deliveries via Belarus.

Belarus is quite comfortable with such a deadlock in negotiations, bearing in mind its conventional negotiating tactics: winning by ‘starving into surrender’. In Lukashenko’s view, Russia is in a desperate situation, and it may well pay for Belarus’ current economic needs. Finally, Lukashenko perceives the increased attention by senior Russian officials as a political achievement.

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