Russo-Belarusian conflict escalates
The Belarusian authorities seek additional arguments in a dispute with the Kremlin over the terms of cooperation in integration associations. The Kremlin, in turn, demonstrates unwillingness to yield and increases the pressure. Gas talks next week are unlikely to report results, but are likely to prompt the parties to step up the conflict.
During a working meeting with the Chairman of the State Customs Committee Yuri Senko, President Lukashenka said that Russia relied on the Belarusian customs authorities while protecting her interests on the ‘western front’.
President Lukashenka has publicly intervened in the gas and oil conflict between the state agencies of the two states and requested to unblock supplies of Belarusian products to the Russian market, but to no avail. On the contrary, Russia has increased restrictions on the Belarusian goods’ supplies to the Russian market. In addition, information has been disclosed that Russia has cut oil supplies to Belarus not so much due to the gas price dispute, but due to Russia’s (Transneft) intention to prompt Belarusian refiners to transport their products through Russian ports on the Baltic Sea (Ust-Luga, Primorsk). In addition, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich ruled out any discount on gas for Belarus even before the talks started. Amid military escalation in the region, the Russian government apparently anticipates that Minsk would succumb to the pressure by force.
The Belarusian authorities, in turn, seek additional arguments. In order to strengthen Belarus’ positions on the gas and oil supplies agreements, the president requested to revise relations with the Kremlin in terms of Belarus’ role in ensuring the smooth operations of the Russian border trade. The Belarusian leadership insists that Belarus’ customs costs should be offset by greater openness of the Russian market for Belarusian products.
Apparently, tension between Minsk and the Kremlin is likely to grow and talks, scheduled for the coming week, are unlikely to result in a compromise.
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.