Lukashenko sides with Gazprom in dispute with Ukraine
Belarus wants to increase its long-term and guaranteed proceeds from the Russian energy transit. Complicated negotiations between the Kremlin and Kiev are in Belarus’ favour, as it plays on Russia’s side.
On November 22nd, President Lukashenko met with Chairman of the “Gazprom” Board Alexey Miller.
The most significant outcome of the talks in Minsk, according to Miller, was the intention to increase gas transit through Belarus by 30% by 2017. After Beltransgaz was sold to Gazprom in 2011, Belarus has lower, but still guaranteed income from tax revenues.
Moreover, the likely increase in transit volume means revenue growth for Belarus from Gazprom’s investment and infrastructure projects. For instance, during the meeting Miller and Lukashenko discussed the construction of additional local pipeline bridges (Mikashevichi-Luninets), an underground gas storage, and maintenance of existing transportation systems.
In particular, Belarus is interested in the modernization of the national gas distribution system with the Gazprom’s financial support. During the meeting it was noted that Gazprom and the Belarusian Government would develop three and ten-year investment programmes for the reconstruction of gas distribution stations. Mr. Miller has declared Gazprom’s readiness to reconstruct 35 stations by 2015.
Most likely, the reason for such promising plans of Mr. Miller in Belarus is the deterioration of the situation between Gazprom and Naftogaz-Ukraine regarding gas prices and other issues, or even more broadly, between the Kremlin and Kiev regarding Ukraine’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union. In any case, today Belarus will gain more benefits if she plays on Russia’s side, particularly, bearing in mind, that when it comes to discussion of specific conditions, Minsk only “express consent” to Gazprom plans.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.