Lukashenko sides with Gazprom in dispute with Ukraine
Belarus wants to increase its long-term and guaranteed proceeds from the Russian energy transit. Complicated negotiations between the Kremlin and Kiev are in Belarus’ favour, as it plays on Russia’s side.
On November 22nd, President Lukashenko met with Chairman of the “Gazprom” Board Alexey Miller.
The most significant outcome of the talks in Minsk, according to Miller, was the intention to increase gas transit through Belarus by 30% by 2017. After Beltransgaz was sold to Gazprom in 2011, Belarus has lower, but still guaranteed income from tax revenues.
Moreover, the likely increase in transit volume means revenue growth for Belarus from Gazprom’s investment and infrastructure projects. For instance, during the meeting Miller and Lukashenko discussed the construction of additional local pipeline bridges (Mikashevichi-Luninets), an underground gas storage, and maintenance of existing transportation systems.
In particular, Belarus is interested in the modernization of the national gas distribution system with the Gazprom’s financial support. During the meeting it was noted that Gazprom and the Belarusian Government would develop three and ten-year investment programmes for the reconstruction of gas distribution stations. Mr. Miller has declared Gazprom’s readiness to reconstruct 35 stations by 2015.
Most likely, the reason for such promising plans of Mr. Miller in Belarus is the deterioration of the situation between Gazprom and Naftogaz-Ukraine regarding gas prices and other issues, or even more broadly, between the Kremlin and Kiev regarding Ukraine’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union. In any case, today Belarus will gain more benefits if she plays on Russia’s side, particularly, bearing in mind, that when it comes to discussion of specific conditions, Minsk only “express consent” to Gazprom plans.
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.