Belarus-Russia: no pain, no gain
By Anatol Pankouski
Belarusian-Russian relations have somewhat chilled, marking the likely next stage of “tainted relations”. Some analysts anticipate such a development, linking it, on the one hand, with the upcoming talks on Russian energy supplies, and on the other, with constitutional reforms in Belarus.
Last week was uneventful for bilateral relations or high-profile statements, except for Russian president’s press secretary Peskov saying that the Kremlin was watching closely the developments in Belarus and would like to “see her stable”. He also indirectly wished the "younger brother" to overcome the political crisis, noting that "cruelty that was not provoked by any actions of the protesters, of course, such cruelty is undesirable and unacceptable."
The expected gas supply talks between Belarus and Russia did not commence last week, or at least, not publicly. Consequently, smoke and mirrors are yet to come. Experts anticipate a crescendo sometime around the New Year.
Oil talks have commenced, but so far, they do not bode well for the parties. This is evidenced by Minsk’s intention to increase the oil transit tariff by 25%, of which she informed Russia last week with a reference to reduced proceeds in 2020 due to a decrease in oil pumping from Russia in connection with the OPEC + agreement.
In turn, Russia, represented by Alexander Novak, who was recently promoted, believes that oil supplies to Belarus are carried out on mutually beneficial and fair terms. In other words, Russia does not intend to consider compensation for the tax manoeuvre and/or readjust oil prices downward. However, Novak believes that Belarus yet must ensure a fair balance: to arrange the export of oil products through Russian ports in the Baltic. The Russian Transport Ministry is working on tariffs proposal for the meeting between Mishustin and Halauchanka in early December.
Hence, the tension in bilateral relations is building up. In anticipation of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov's visit to Minsk, Kommersant published an analysis of how Lukashenka's rigid negotiating skills could lead to economic losses for Russia.