Russia suspects Belarus of smuggling petroleum products
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov said on June 28th that Russia’s Finance Ministry suspected Belarus of exporting petroleum products under the guise of organic solvents in order not to pay export duties to Russia. Apparently, Russia will insist on putting the smuggling to an end, which, in turn, will result in substantial reductions in foreign proceeds and reduced profitability of Belarusian oil refineries and oil traders.
“We have encountered that the organic solvents export from Belarus to foreign markets has increased by several times. We fear this is a cover up. It is possible that under the guise of petroleum solvents petroleum is exported. Currently we are looking into this matter and will react accordingly. We will negotiate with our Belarusian counterparts”, Mr. Shatalov said while speaking at a European Businesses Association’s conference.
It should be emphasized that cessation of petroleum products smuggling under the guise of solvents, diluents and lubricants will result in significant reductions in foreign exchange proceeds and will reduce the profitability of Belarusian oil refineries and oil traders.
In January – April 2012, Belarusian oil products’ export increased by 62.8% to USD 5.443 billion, diluents and solvents’ export increased by more than 7.3 times to USD 1.705 billion, and lubricants materials export – by 43 (!) times up to USD 590.926 million. Crude oil exports increased in January-April 2012 by 4.5% to USD 450.549 million (supply to Germany).
All in all, Belarusian “oil” exports (oil, mineral oil, diluents, solvents, lubricants, liquefied petroleum gas) in January-April 2012 doubled compared with the same period last year - to USD 8.307 billion. The share of “oil” exports in the overall country’s exports increased from 35.4% in January-April 2011 to 51% in January-April 2012.
Moreover, it seems that Belarusian companies re-export Russian oil under the guise of solvents and thinners, without paying applicable fees to the Russian budget. In January-April 2012 exports of Belarusian oil products, thinners, solvents and lubricants in physical terms (9.144 million tons) was significantly higher than domestic oil production (7.578 million tons).
In January-April 2012 Belarus imported 4.189 million tons of duty free petroleum products worth USD 2.583 billion, which is 3.7 times higher than in January-April 2011. The bulk of supply (99.1%) is coming from Russia.
Therefore, Belarusian oil traders jointly with Russian oil companies have created de facto oil offshore in Belarus to evade export duties payments to the Russian budget. Experts assess Russian budget’s losses in 2011-2012 as exceeding USD 1.5 billion. Therefore one should anticipate the oil offshore to seize to exist in the near future. In other words, Russia will request Belarus to show the real volumes of petroleum products exports and, consequently to pay export duties in full.
For reference. The National Bank of Belarus in 2011 paid USD 3.07 billion in export duties for oil products to the Russian budget, and in January-May 2012 – USD 1.857 billion.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.