Oil Supplies: A Short Leash
At the end of 2012 it was announced that Belarus and Russia had reached an agreement on the supply of Russian oil to Belarus at nearly the same volume as requested by the Belarusian side, but only for the first quarter of 2013.
In the first quarter of 2013, Belarus has received a certain guarantee for the stable work of oil refinery plants. However, such a short-term agreement is, in fact, a lever to force Belarus to fulfill all the provisions of the reached agreement, in particular, to supply part of the refined oil to Russia, and to eliminate different options to resume re-export of Russian oil and / or petroleum products without paying export duties to the Russian budget.
Oil refinery is one of the key industries of the Belarusian economy. According to the results of the eleven months of 2012, oil export accounted for 30% of Belarus’ total exports. OJSC “Naftan” is the biggest taxpayer in Vitebsk region and is second on the list of most profitable Belarusian companies for the first nine months of 2012, earning BYR 2 730 billion in net profit. A key factor for successful performance of oil refinery plants is the stability of oil supplies.
Following negotiations, the parties reached an agreement to supply 5.07 million tonnes of oil to Belarus in the first quarter of 2013 by pipe and another 750,000 tonnes by rail. The expediency of rail shipments is questionable due to the more expensive logistics as compared to supplies by pipe. However, if the agreed volume of oil is supplied in the first quarter of 2013, the Belarusian oil refinery plants will receive a volume of oil that is close to the maximum capacity of refineries. This will allow the volume of production to be on the same level as in the first quarter of 2012 and will also have a beneficial impact on the whole economy.
It should be reminded that Belarus requested 23 million tonnes of oil for 2013, while Russia offered only 18, 5 million tonnes. If the agreed volume f supplies remains the same as in the first quarter for the subsequent periods, this means that more than 20 million tonnes of oil will be delivered within a year. The condition for a compromise was an offset agreement to supply back to the Russian Federation around 2 million tonnes of oil that had been refined in Belarus over the year.
Meanwhile, Russia has installed a lever to influence Belarus. A decrease in supplies of oil by pipe in the second and subsequent quarters can be used as an argument to force the Belarusian side to fulfill obligations on the counter deliveries of petroleum products which Belarus failed to meet in 2012. Also, it is possible to conduct negotiations on the privatization of several Belarusian enterprises.
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.