Minsk attempts to reduce Kremlin claims in oil and gas dispute by diversifying energy supplies
Minsk attempts to enhance its position in the oil and gas dispute with the Kremlin by diversifying oil supplies and demonstrating a serious intention to defend Belarus’ military-political and economic sovereignty. Such actions by the authorities find support among some National Democrats and weaken the protest movement. Should Belarus reach an agreement with Russia, she is likely to curtail oil supplies from other sources.
According to Reuters, the Belarusian Oil Company (BOC) bought 80 000 tons of oil from Iranian NIOC.
Minsk has neither confirmed, nor denied the information about Iranian oil supplies. By expanding sources of oil supply - initially Azerbaijan and now Iran - Belarus seeks to reinforce her bargaining position in the oil and gas talks with Russia. The information about Minsk’s interest in Iranian oil came along with the statements about Russia and Belarus coordinating yet another option to resolve the oil and gas dispute, which however provoked immediate scepticism on both sides.
Minsk may continue to purchase Iranian oil in 2017 if there is no progress in negotiations with the Kremlin. The Belarusian authorities attempt to point Moscow up on the option of losing "native" Russian markets due to the aggressive pricing policy of Iran (after the removal of sanctions on Iran). That said, Minsk seeks to emphasise the departure from the traditional economic determinism in favour of political factors, i.e., that it is willing to purchase crude oil from multiple vendors at a higher price, if needed, in order lift the threat to the economic, military and political sovereignty.
Amid Russo-Belarusian tension, the Belarusian authorities could be buying Iranian oil in order to boost proceeds at Belarusian refineries, which have fallen when Russia cut oil supplies. In addition, the authorities’ desire to diversify oil supplies was positively assessed by some opposition leaders, who advocated for strengthening of the Belarus’ independence and could soften their criticism of the Belarusian authorities. This, in turn, could weaken the protest movement and provoke tension and mutual claims among the opposition leaders.
Apparently, the Belarusian authorities are ready to suffer some economic losses as the need to diversify energy suppliers arises. Moreover, after the lifting of sanctions on Tehran, Minsk could resume and expand military and economic cooperation with Iran.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.