Belarusian-Russian relations on the brink of another escalation
On June 12th – 13th, Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus and Russia Union Chairman Sergei Naryshkin visited Belarus and met with President Lukashenko and Belarusian MPs.
Agreement on Russian oil supply to Belarus in Q3 is delayed, implying that the parties have not yet reached a compromise. In this regard, within the next 2 weeks the probability for political tensions with Russia increases.
By June 15 agreement on Q3 or Q3/Q4 Russia’s oil supply to Belarus was not signed, creating the preconditions for the escalation of bilateral political relations in the June’s remaining two weeks. The situation’s peculiarity is that Russia demonstrates a more flexible negotiating position: Russian senior officials recently visited Belarus (Medvedev, Patrushev, Naryshkin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (twice)).
However Belarus refuses to compromise. Belarusian authorities insist on the requested oil supply (23 million tons in 2013) and want to harmonize tariffs on Russian energy resources (they want gas prices harmonized and export duties on oil products abolished) and to have Russian arms deliveries in non-export packaging and on favorable terms.
Belarus has high demands, but refuses to carry out privatization in favor of Russian investors. It is also likely that the countries have not agreed on alleged Russia’s proposal to buy a certain territory (perhaps to accommodate the air base). During his meeting with Naryshkin Lukashenko quite unexpectedly said that “Belarus, especially Russia, do not need foreign territories”, and that “we are not going to give our territories away”.
Thus, negotiations might end-up in a deadlock when Russia exhausts its arguments and negotiator’s reputation is undermined (Minister Shoigu’s statement about Russian air base deployment was refuted by Lukashenko). In these circumstances, bilateral relations might escalate – on June 11th Russia’s Central Bank has already raised the issue of criminal risks linked with payments for goods deliveries via Belarus.
Belarus is quite comfortable with such a deadlock in negotiations, bearing in mind its conventional negotiating tactics: winning by ‘starving into surrender’. In Lukashenko’s view, Russia is in a desperate situation, and it may well pay for Belarus’ current economic needs. Finally, Lukashenko perceives the increased attention by senior Russian officials as a political achievement.
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.