Oil Supplies: A Short Leash
At the end of 2012 it was announced that Belarus and Russia had reached an agreement on the supply of Russian oil to Belarus at nearly the same volume as requested by the Belarusian side, but only for the first quarter of 2013.
In the first quarter of 2013, Belarus has received a certain guarantee for the stable work of oil refinery plants. However, such a short-term agreement is, in fact, a lever to force Belarus to fulfill all the provisions of the reached agreement, in particular, to supply part of the refined oil to Russia, and to eliminate different options to resume re-export of Russian oil and / or petroleum products without paying export duties to the Russian budget.
Oil refinery is one of the key industries of the Belarusian economy. According to the results of the eleven months of 2012, oil export accounted for 30% of Belarus’ total exports. OJSC “Naftan” is the biggest taxpayer in Vitebsk region and is second on the list of most profitable Belarusian companies for the first nine months of 2012, earning BYR 2 730 billion in net profit. A key factor for successful performance of oil refinery plants is the stability of oil supplies.
Following negotiations, the parties reached an agreement to supply 5.07 million tonnes of oil to Belarus in the first quarter of 2013 by pipe and another 750,000 tonnes by rail. The expediency of rail shipments is questionable due to the more expensive logistics as compared to supplies by pipe. However, if the agreed volume of oil is supplied in the first quarter of 2013, the Belarusian oil refinery plants will receive a volume of oil that is close to the maximum capacity of refineries. This will allow the volume of production to be on the same level as in the first quarter of 2012 and will also have a beneficial impact on the whole economy.
It should be reminded that Belarus requested 23 million tonnes of oil for 2013, while Russia offered only 18, 5 million tonnes. If the agreed volume f supplies remains the same as in the first quarter for the subsequent periods, this means that more than 20 million tonnes of oil will be delivered within a year. The condition for a compromise was an offset agreement to supply back to the Russian Federation around 2 million tonnes of oil that had been refined in Belarus over the year.
Meanwhile, Russia has installed a lever to influence Belarus. A decrease in supplies of oil by pipe in the second and subsequent quarters can be used as an argument to force the Belarusian side to fulfill obligations on the counter deliveries of petroleum products which Belarus failed to meet in 2012. Also, it is possible to conduct negotiations on the privatization of several Belarusian enterprises.
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.