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Minsk attempts to reduce Kremlin claims in oil and gas dispute by diversifying energy supplies

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February 20, 2017 10:24
Image: Reuters

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.

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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.

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