US-Canada oil pipeline – water source threatened
In the current fruit and oil conflict between Russia and Belarus, no clearing is visible. This is the opinion of the respondents; Belarusian experts speak with the Voice of America
Relations between the two member states of the “Union State of Russia and Belarus” are far from idyllic.
Such terms as “milk” and “meat” wars, “Russian embargo” and “Belarusian shrimps” have become firmly established. Food wars, as a rule, begin after Minsk allows itself, from Moscow’s point of view, too much liberties. And then Moscow introduces a ban on the supply of Belarusian products to Russia. For example, the chief sanitary doctor of the Russian Federation claims that agricultural products in Belarus do not meet high Russian standards. Or it turns out that among Belarus’s exports to Russia there are food products that the neighboring republic itself is not able to produce due to its geographical location.
In response, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko threatens to return customs to the border of the members of the “Union State”, refuses to go to the meeting of the CSTO or the EAEU, makes loud statements in the direction of the “elder brother”. And after a while the situation calms down and the “wars” stop by themselves. But this time, the situation is perhaps more serious..
It all started as a familiar food war, this time a “fruit war”. Rosselkhoznadzor announced the imposition of an embargo on the supply of apples and pears from Belarus, and Lukashenka called on the country’s government to start repairing the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies Russian oil to Europe.
The correspondent of the Russian service “Voice of America” asked Belarusian experts how far the current confrontation between Moscow and Minsk could go.
“Every year, budget revenues of Belarus will decrease”
Political observer of the TUT.BY portal Artem Shraibman notes that the degree of independence of Belarusian foreign policy from a partner in the “Union State” has only increased over the years. “Of course, it is obvious that Belarus acts with an eye on Russia, and there are“ red lines ”that Belarus cannot cross in its foreign policy. For example, it cannot leave its integration associations with Russia without receiving a tough reaction from the Kremlin for this, which may be incompatible with the stability of the current political regime, “the expert says..
At the same time, he reminds that over the years Minsk is increasingly expanding its space for maneuvers, sometimes resorting to demonstrative actions. “For example, Belarus did not recognize the annexation of Crimea, just as it did not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia before. Those were pretty challenging moments. And more and more often Minsk behaves in contrast to the behavior of Russia, for example, makes pacifying statements where Moscow swears with the West, emphatically transparently behaves in military exercises, where Russia does not allow Western observers, and so on, ”notes Artem Shraibman. And he sums up that in this way Belarus sends signals to the West that it is a satellite of Russia, but a separate country, and its sovereignty is in Minsk, and not behind the Kremlin wall..
Shraibman’s colleague is an economic observer for TUT.BY Alexander Zayats noted that currently Belarus buys oil from its eastern neighbor at a price a quarter lower than the world price. “This difference will gradually decrease, and, according to experts, by 2024 it should be for Belarus at the world level. In the meantime, due to the existing delta, Belarus has certain advantages, ”he notes. But already this year, due to the notorious “tax maneuver”, Belarus will receive less than $ 380 million at a price of $ 70 per barrel. “And if this price is maintained, every subsequent year, the revenues to the budget of Belarus will be reduced by three or four hundred million dollars. And Belarusian experts have calculated that by 2024 the country may be missing a total of ten to eleven billion dollars..
Finally, we must not forget that this year the preferential gas price for Belarus is coming to an end. That is, it has not been agreed for 2020 and beyond. At present, this price for us is higher than in Russia, but lower than the world one. And the Belarusians want even lower, ”Alexander Zayats said in an interview with the Voice of America correspondent..
“Minsk is very seriously looking for partners besides Russia”
Head of the analytical project “Belarus Security Blog” Andrey Porotnikov believes that the current conflict between Moscow and Minsk “will definitely not end with an exchange of barbs.” The expert also notes that the severity of trade wars between the members of the “Union State” is constantly growing: “If earlier, when the notorious” wars “around food and other goods arose, it was possible to reach an agreement, and within three to four months, maximum – six months, problems in bilateral relations there was no longer, but now the agreements that are being reached do not last even a month. That is, as soon as we have agreed on one block of questions, the problem comes out on another block, and everything starts all over again. “.
According to Porotnikov, this indicates that the relations between the official Minsk and the Kremlin are in the so-called “confrontational zone”, from which there is still no way out..
At the same time, the interlocutor of the Voice of America is not inclined to exaggerate the importance of the frequent visits of European politicians and businessmen to Belarus..
“One should not expect any turn towards the West from the side of the current regime – Alexander Lukashenko is absolutely anti-Western politician by his convictions. And he does not understand and does not share the basic Western values. But it cannot be said that the increased contacts are just an attempt to arouse jealousy on the part of Moscow. In fact, Minsk is very seriously looking for partners besides Russia. But the problem is that due to the specifics of the existing regime in Belarus, the main partners of official Minsk are countries for which the value factor is not decisive. That is, these are the same autocracies, but the problem is that they are not economically and technologically advanced, and, accordingly, cannot serve as a source for the modernization of the economic development of Belarus, ”sums up Andrei Porotnikov.
“Apart from the freedom of movement of citizens, one cannot say that there really is integration.”
On Friday, April 19, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko addressed the people and the National Assembly with his next annual message. And one of the main topics here was the relationship between Belarus and Russia..
Head of the Mises Research Center Yaroslav Romanchuk, analyzing the appeal, he believes that Lukashenka is ready to bury the project called “Union State”, but he does not intend to share the sovereignty of Belarus with official Moscow and agree with the Kremlin’s proposals on the transition to some joint government bodies.
In a conversation with a correspondent for the Russian service of the Voice of America, Romanchuk noted: “This is the key issue of 2019, because lately all domestic, foreign and energy policy has revolved around this. A few days ago there was a message that Dmitry Medvedev had passed proposals on the “Union State” to the Belarusian side, and it was expected that the Belarusian president would somehow react to this. But judging by the words from the message that we are not going to share sovereignty, and in the event of a security threat, Belarusians will not give up an inch of their native land, it looks like someone is really going to attack us. And I interpret this as a kind of response to what was proposed by the Russian side. Of course, such words as “Kremlin”, “Russia”, or “Putin” did not sound, but all this is very easy to read ”.
The head of the Mises Center adds that the entire range of economic relations: whether it be Belarusian exports to Russia, energy supplies to Belarus or the parties’ participation in joint industrial projects – also does not add optimism about the future of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. “I don’t know a single sphere, except for the freedom of movement of citizens of the two countries, about which one could say that there really is integration. Everything else is in limbo, and the Belarusian side interprets this as a violation of the principle of equality of opportunity, ”Yaroslav Romanchuk said..
“This conflict will become an epoch-making point”
Summing up the topic, Artem Shraibman noted that in any case, emotions will cool down over time. “It’s another matter that the current conflict, as it seems to me, is fundamentally different from everything that happened before in relations between the two countries, because for the first time Russia has so fundamentally raised the issue of maintaining the level of its support for Belarus, which was before. Today, the oil rent that Belarus received from relations with Russia is becoming a thing of the past. And it will finally go away in 2024, when we reach world oil prices. And the only way for Belarus to return it is to sacrifice its sovereignty to one degree or another. This was stated directly, “the political observer notes..
It is this factor, according to Artem Shraibman, that makes it impossible to preserve the previous preferences, and hence the current level of integration, because the Belarusian leadership cannot make concessions to Russia. “Therefore, this conflict, no matter how it ends on an emotional level, in my opinion, will become an epoch-making point when countries began to seriously distance themselves from each other. Because oil, and everything connected with it, is one of the key channels for Russia’s support to Belarus. And if it disappears from the relationship – and behind it the gas channel of support may well disappear – then we will see a rejection of the scheme that has functioned for at least twenty years, if not twenty-five.
So this is a rather significant event, at least for Belarus. It’s just that it has been stretched for several years, ”concludes Artem Shraibman.