Minsk would sign EEU Customs Code if Moscow made concessions on gas
Neither Minsk, nor the Kremlin seem to have a decisive advantage in the gas dispute. Apparently, the Kremlin allows Minsk to reduce losses from having fewer benefits from participating in the integration projects without applying pressure to enforce payment of the due debt for the gas supply. Russia is likely to either make some short-term concessions with respect to the due gas debt or lower the price in exchange for Belarus signing the EEU Customs Code.
Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Semashko has announced a meeting between Presidents Lukashenka and Putin to discuss how to clear exemptions and restrictions within the EEU.
Prime Ministers Kobyakov and Medvedev could not find a mutually acceptable solution in the lingering oil and gas dispute. According to Russia, Belarus' debt for the supplied gas reached USD 700 million. In the given situation, Belarus’ firm position regarding the price reduction and non-payment for the already supplied gas is due to the fact, that the Kremlin lacks soft instruments to compel Minsk to concessions. In turn, Belarus delays the signing of the EEU Customs Code, which is a sensitive issue for the Russian leadership before the presidential elections in Russia.
Russia’s attempts to tie an increase in the oil supply to Belarusian refineries with making overdue gas payments is likely to be perceived cautiously in Minsk. According to some analysts, Russia had reduced oil supplies to Belarus due to economic reasons and the need to compensate for losses from the construction and launch of the alternative BPS-2 oil pipeline. Apparently, the size of oil supplies to Belarus does not depend on Belarus’ actions; even if the agreement is reached, the restrictions are likely to persist, for example, due to repair works on the pipeline.
In turn, Minsk does not insist on the third tranche of the EFSR loan. In the view of uncertainty over the gas debt and if Moscow insists on the payment, Belarus may never receive the third tranche worth USD 300 million, as it could be used to repay part of Belarus’ debt for supplied Russian gas.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities aspire that the Kremlin is not interested in exacerbating bilateral relations and resuming coercive practices towards its closest ally, including a full-scale information, food, oil and gas war.
In the long term, the disagreements accumulating in the Russo-Belarusian relations over a number of issues - oil, gas, border, and food supplies on the Russian market - would enhance Belarus’ vulnerability to the increased pressure from the Kremlin.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.