The conflict over the conditions for oil supplies from Russia to Belarus continues to grow. Instead of Russian, Minsk is ready to purchase hydrocarbons from Norway, Kazakhstan, the UAE, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and even the United States. Who will be able to win this "oil war", and will this victory not be Pyrrhic?
We repeat once again: the question of oil is a question of the future of our Union State. Obtained from Russia with significant discounts, “black gold” became the basis of the so-called “Belarusian economic miracle”. Local oil refineries refined and sold most of the Russian oil at a profit abroad. For many years, everyone was happy, while as a result of Western sanctions, the Russian economy was not hit hard.
This made me recall the dusty project of the Union State with Belarus, an agreement on the creation of which was signed under President Yeltsin. All past years, neither Moscow nor Minsk have been particularly keen to enforce its position. They remembered the Union State in the Kremlin when it turned out that with its help several problems could be solved at once.
Economic integration with Belarus will allow domestic "business captains" to improve their affairs by absorbing the enterprises of the fraternal republic. Political integration would allow President Putin to transfer to the chair of the head of the Union State in 2024. Judging by the events that unfolded after the Address to the Federal Assembly of January 15, 2020, the latter option has been postponed as a backup. But the financial problems of domestic oligarchs still need to be somehow solved.
As a means of forcing Minsk to fulfill contractual obligations, a “tax maneuver” in the oil sector was chosen. Because of it, the Belarusian budget will annually begin to lose huge funds, and from January 1, 2020, the supply of "black gold" from Russia is completely suspended. President Lukashenko announced his readiness to diversify the sources of oil to his country.
A trial batch of raw materials from Norway of the Johan Sverdrup variety, which is a direct competitor to the Russian Urals, has already been purchased. Alexander Grigoryevich is negotiating the supply of hydrocarbons from the Black Sea through a pipeline through Ukraine. Negotiations on the purchase of oil in the United States. Kazakhstan has expressed a desire to become a supplier of Minsk.
In the case of Kazakhstani oil, everything will depend on the position of the Kremlin. Raw materials can go through the Atyrau-Samara pipeline and the Druzhba pipeline. In Nur Sultan delicately declared:
We did not negotiate with the Russian side, because the transportation of oil to Belarus through the Druzhba system was the initiative of Belarus.
In theory, all three countries are members of the Eurasian Economic Union, which should mean the absence of any barriers. However, President Lukashenko said earlier that the Kremlin is against deliveries to Belarus from Kazakhstan through its territory. The situation, to put it mildly, is not entirely unambiguous.
It is worth asking how the chosen tactics and tools are suitable for the purpose of creating the Union State. On the one hand, President Lukashenko is wrong, demanding special conditions for himself, but not fulfilling the norms of the agreement signed by him. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear what exactly the Kremlin is seeking. If you believe the statement of Alexander Grigoryevich, Moscow expects from Minsk the accession of Belarus to Russia in the format of six regions, that is, the elimination of Belarusian statehood.
It is possible that President Lukashenko is somewhat exaggerating the ambitions of Moscow, but neither he nor a significant part of the Belarusian public are clearly ready for the “Anschluss” scenario. An attempt to hammer Minsk with the issue of oil is unlikely to lead to the desired result, rather, it will be the opposite. The well-known Russian expert in the field of energy Konstantin Simonov directly suggests getting rid of unnecessary and dangerous illusions:
It was like with Ukraine. The country after 2014 is in critical condition. I remember that we had clever people who said that Ukrainians would be starving, sober up and would return to us. They were really starving, and even partially sober, but they didn’t come to us.
Yes, defending sovereignty, Minsk will be able to replace Russian oil with alternative oil to the detriment of its economic interests, do not go to a fortuneteller. The logical result will be an increase in anti-Russian sentiment in the camp of our only official ally with all the ensuing consequences. A holy place is never empty, and other players will come to Belarus along with imported oil: the EU, the USA, and the PRC, who will help with money and specialists of a certain profile. After that, the “Ukrainian scenario” for Minsk will become very likely.
So is it worth it to go too far? Perhaps, instead of the “takeover” scenario, one should choose a more comfortable one for our Belarusian partners? For example, a confederate union, within which Minsk will retain a significant part of its political sovereignty? Instead of crude oil blackmail, switch to real mutually beneficial economic integration, which will be built not only around the supply of hydrocarbons?
In the same Kazakhstan, it’s obviously without pleasure watching how the Kremlin is trying to break the obstinate Minsk. Breaking does not build.