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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.