No major oil concessions for Belarus from the Kremlin
Belarus has reaped some minor concessions from the Kremlin within the Eurasian Economic Community’s founding treaty. However, when it comes to oil duty exemptions - the most sensitive issue for Belarus – Russia is uncompromising. Minsk will insist on resolving the oil issue when the EEC takes effect on January 1st, 2015.
Meeting in Moscow last week, the Prime Ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia could not find solutions to key aspects in establishing the Eurasian Union (Eurasian Economic Community, EEC); the decision will have to be made by the presidents.
In late May, the presidents of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan plan to sign the EEC founding treaty. During the prime ministers’ meeting, Belarus managed to find some compromise solutions to a number of controversial issues. However, it is the issue of oil duty exemptions that is at the top of Belarus’ agenda. President Lukashenko will attempt to resolve this at a presidential ‘troika’ meeting on April 29th.
If exempt from paying oil duties, Belarus would earn additional USD 3-4 bn. The Belarusian government could use this money to minimise risks during the 2015 presidential campaign. The March national poll by IISEPS suggests that President Lukashenko’s popular rating has gone up. However, the state is reducing its social guarantees to the population which may have an undesirable effect on the president’s popularity.
The president emphasised how important it was to abolish exemptions, “Since we are building a union and strive to ensure that there are no borders, there should be no exceptions and restrictions on the movement of goods, labour and capital. This is the main goal”.
Meanwhile, during the prime ministers’ meeting, PM Myasnikovich and PM Medvedev reached an agreement over the procurement of agricultural machinery. Ahead of signing the EEC treaty, the Kremlin is using this agreement to compensate for its disagreement over oil issues.
In addition, Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov confirmed Russia’s decision to maintain oil supplies to Belarusian refineries at the same level. In 2013, these volumes were revised by Russia every quarter – after Belarus had seized oil supplies to foreign markets under the guise of solvents and diluents without paying duties to the Russian budget. The Kremlin and Minsk have agreed to keep a steady supply of oil in 2014 at 23 million tonnes.
It is worth noting that, with the Kremlin dragging other CIS countries in the Eurasian integration, Belarus’ negotiating positions have weakened. Armenia’s Economy Minister Avanesyan stated that Armenia planned to sign the Customs Union treaty with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on April 29th, 2014. Kyrgyzstan also expressed the desire to join the Eurasian integration.
Thus, Belarus will insist on abolishing the oil duty exemptions and trade restrictions when the Eurasian Union takes effect on January 1st, 2015. Meanwhile, Belarus is waiting for acceptable compensation from the Kremlin during the transition period until the oil issue is resolved.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.