Minsk demonstrates readiness to make concessions to the Kremlin
On March 15th, Presidents Lukashenko and Putin will meet at the Supreme Council of the Belarus and Russia Union State meeting.
In the upcoming talks with Putin, President Lukashenko aims to agree on exchanging energy trade preferences within the Eurasian Economic Union, an important project for the Kremlin. Signals, sent by Belarus, indicate that Minsk is ready to waive at least part of the oil and oil products sales proceeds.
Belarus’ the most pressing economic issue to be discussed at the Supreme State Council meeting is the signing of the 23 million tons oil supply agreement for 2013. Belarus’ readiness to compromise is demonstrated by the replacement of the longtime negotiator - First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko, known for his non-compromising negotiating style – with more diplomatic and pliant Prime Minister Myasnikovich. The replacement was signed by the President on March 4th.
Also, on March 6th, Belneftekhim management said about its readiness to cooperate with five selected Russian oil suppliers. This de facto monopoly of oil supplies to Belarus has already been criticized by the Belarusian government, but the President Lukashenko’s decision recognized Russia’s rectitude.
Thus, Belarus has demonstrated readiness to sacrifice part of its oil refining profits in exchange for requested oil supply volumes and preservation of the Eurasian integration links. In the given circumstances, this strategy is the most beneficial for Belarus since it does not require privatization of the Belarusian enterprises and envisages only reduced profits from crude oil refining, supplied on commission.
However, Russia’s response suggests that the Kremlin may not agree with this proposal. In particular, on March 4th, Union State Secretary Grigory Rapota said that the oil supply agreement was not likely to be signed at the Presidents’ meeting, because of the Union State Council of Ministers’ capacity in these issues.
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.