The Kremlin and Minsk, mired in a web of potential conflicts
Despite fraternal rhetoric, the Belarusian and Russian regimes are really only allies of convenience, and the list of potential conflict areas in bilateral relations is growing.
Moscow is questioning the future viability of gas export via Belarus, instituting a sharp 80% reduction in planned trans-shipment volume for the 4th quarter of this year, justified by the commissioning of the new Nord Stream-2 facility. The Belarusian route is thus relegated to reserve capacity in case of technical problems, while in stark contrast, Russia maintains gas transit through Ukraine. Consequently, the primary loss (of about 70 million USD per quarter) from the commissioning of Nord Stream-2 falls on Minsk, not Kyiv.
In the case of oil, reports indicate that in the 1st half of 2021, Russia supplied 6.22 million tons to Belarus. Even if this supply rate were maintained, which is unlikely given US sanctions against the “Naftan” Navapolatsk Oil Refinery, the volume of oil supplied to Belarus in 2012 will decrease by almost 1.5 times compared to the 18 million tons planned. This is a significant problem, given that the export of petroleum products is the single largest component of Belarusian exports.
Meanwhile, it is highly probable that Russian producers of potash fertilisers will try to take advantage of Western sanctions against Belarus to take market share from Belaruskali.
Despite Kremlin assurances of support for the Belarusian regime in the face of Western sanctions, no practical steps are materialising. Moscow restricts itself to political rhetoric and symbolic gestures while engineering additional threats to the financial base of the Belarusian regime. Only the political isolation of Minsk elsewhere prevents this escalating into open bilateral conflict.