26 February 2020, Wednesday, 11:27
The Wait Is Nearly Over


Valer Karbalevich

It will take a little bit more, and the parties will strangle each other in the integration ecstasy.

The last two meetings of Prime Ministers of Belarus and Russia Siarhei Rumas and Dmitry Medvedev were held under the banner of sheer optimism. There were some encouraging statements that the programs for the deeper integration of Russia and Belarus were coordinated by 90%, very little remains, a little more, and the parties will strangle each other in the integration ecstasy.

However, Aliaksandr Lukashenka destroyed all this splendid bliss. On July 9, during a meeting with State Secretary of the “union state” Grigory Rapota, he switched on the reverse. From his statement it follows that the two capitals have fundamental disagreements that are only growing stronger.

Lukashenka formulated the essence of the disagreements quite definitely. “We have agreed (with Putin - author) that while solving strategic issues, we will simultaneously solve tactical issues,” the Belarusian leader said. Let me translate it into clear language.

“Strategic issues” are related to the topic of “deepening integration”. “Issues of a tactical nature” are the problems relating to the Russian subsidies to Belarus. As well as providing favorable conditions for the work of Belarusian enterprises. This refers to domestic Russian energy prices, access to government orders of the Russian Federation. A. Lukashenka indignantly recalls: “Today we have about 80 enterprises closed by the Rosselkhoznadzor or some kind of authority in Russia, and maybe even by the government. Most likely, by the government. Closed for the supply of our products to Russia. Moreover, under a false pretext.”

In other words, integration issues and issues of Russian subsidies to Belarus should be discussed and solved simultaneously, in parallel. Putting it even simpler, the position of Minsk comes down to the fact that despite the difficulties in the negotiations on integration, the money from Russia must come without interruption. This was the negotiation tactics of the Belarusian leadership. “Because without solving these issues, there is nothing to talk about, on our part,” A. Lukashenka said directly.

However, it turned out that the position of Russia is diametrically opposite. Moscow stopped all forms of subsidies to Belarus until Minsk agreed to “deepen integration”. At first it concerned only the compensation for tax maneuver. On June 26, Minister of Finance of Belarus Maksim Yermalovich said that Russia is linking the allocation of a state loan of $ 630 million to Belarus with the integration processes.

Now the question of gas prices is frozen. The current gas tariff agreement expires in 2019. According to last year's agreement, the question of the gas pricing formula for Belarus for the next years will be resolved before July 1, 2019. However, as Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Uladzimir Siamashka admitted, the Russian side is silent and ignores all proposals from Minsk on this topic.

On July 8, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said: “For the time being, we are holding negotiations to deepen the integration processes. After we finish the dialogue on this topic, it will become clear when and how we will bring our gas markets together, make a single market or a common gas market. ” Translated into an understandable language, this means that Minsk must first agree on integration with Russia, and only then the discounts on gas will be considered.

The same story happened during the negotiations on the increase of tariffs for the transit of oil through the territory of Belarus. The Belarusian side proposed raising tariffs by 21.7% to compensate for the losses from the supply of dirty oil. The Interfax-Zapad agency, citing a source in the state agencies, reports that the Russian side links the change in oil transit tariffs with the political aspects of the integration of the two countries.

Thus, it is now known that Moscow has tied up in one package the compensation for the tax maneuver, and the gas prices, and the allocation of a loan, and transit tariffs. Russia is ready to sell it to Belarus only in exchange for merging into one state.

Stating this absolute dissimilarity, contradiction of the positions of Belarus and Russia, A. Lukashenka said that the parties had cornered themselves, and made a quite rational conclusion: “there is nothing to discuss as of today”, at the meeting with V. Putin.

What to do? Lukashenka’s proposal, frankly, is not too witty: “We have to reach some results in just a few days. So that we can work out an agenda and discuss these issues with President Putin on July 17–18 in St. Petersburg. Just to meet and sit in front of each other without speaking - well, probably, the times for such meetings have already passed. ”

This offer looks utterly strange. If several months of negotiations have been a failure, then how can a deal be reached in the week remaining before the meeting between Lukashenka and Putin in St. Petersburg? Especially considering the completely different positions.

The second idea of A. Lukashenka is no less surprising. He proposed to the State Secretary of the “union state” Grigory Rapota to join the negotiations in order to break the deadlock. The interlocutor answered that representatives of the Standing Committee of the “union state” were not even included in the working group on integration issues.

During this meeting, A. Lukashenka touched upon another interesting storyline. He stated: “The bottom line is that we agreed with President Putin that we will not break the agreement. Because if we break it, we will destroy everything that was created during this time. This is first, and secondly, the agreement is not fully implemented. It is relevant today. Therefore, Lukashenka and Putin decided that they should not touch the contract. ”

This refers to the agreement on the creation of a “union state”, dated 1999. It must be assumed that someone in Moscow is demanding it should be amended. The fact is that this agreement establishes the principle of parity, on the basis of which Belarus and Russia should unite, which Russia can in no way be satisfied with. And the official Minsk, grasping this parity provision, can block all the integration efforts of Moscow. Therefore, the spells of A. Lukashenka that a “union” agreement cannot be broken are very understandable.

On July 12, the American news agency Bloomberg wrote that according to its Moscow sources, the project of uniting with Belarus for the Kremlin is already irrelevant. For “the efforts aimed at convincing the leader of neighboring Belarus to merge with Russia, which would allow Putin to become the head of the united state, failed”. Therefore, they say, Putin adopted a different scenario in order to maintain power after 2024.

Maybe it is so. But so far, the statements and actions of the Russian officials do not confirm this version. On the contrary, the position of Moscow is becoming more rigid.

Valer Karbalevich, Svobodnye Novosti