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Last Friday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich recalled that the debt of Belarus for natural gas reached 550 million dollars. According to him, there is no progress in negotiations with Minsk. "In any case, we will insist on full payment for the previous year, using the formula that was previously agreed," said Dvorkovich.
This means that the next visit of the Belarusian delegation to the Russian capital was unsuccessful. Diamond cut diamond. And not only in oil and gas issues.
The conflict between Minsk and Moscow is complex: in addition to oil and gas, "the questions are also related to Eurasian integration, and access to the Russian market," and so on - in short, the "big ball of problems," said Denis Melyantsov, analyst of the Belarusian Institute for strategic studies (Vilnius).
The latest edition produced by the institute "Belarusian foreign index" indicates that at the end of last year, relations with Russia have deteriorated to an absolute minimum for the entire period of analysis (since 2011).
"Unsolved problems remain in all spheres of interaction: the conditions of gas and oil supplies, the conditions of movement of third country nationals through the Belarusian-Russian border, the border authority of Rosselkhoznadzor against the Belarusian food deliveries, the grounds for the inclusion of Belarusian products to the Russian state orders and other," says another study.
"In other words, it is difficult to find an area of a compromise," sums up the survey.
Allies seriously quarreled, previously it came even to turning off the gas, but such a long clinch, as now, it is difficult to remember.
Why happened this time in Moscow and Minsk?
One of the reasons is that Russia now less than money for the support of allies before, says Melyantsov. And this pushes Moscow for greater rigidity when an ally is not fully in line with its foreign policy. The political scientist, in particular, suggests that one of the stumbling blocks can be the question of locating Russian airbase in Belarus.
And in general, "Russia has changed, it began to claim a greater role in world politics, to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy." In this regard, Moscow wants to show the Belarusian ally, "which is seen as a satellite," its the place and induce discipline. So, in his opinion, the current conflict is dictated not so much by the money, but by the fundamental considerations.
What's next? Can we say that the integration era is coming to an end?
Belarus has a critical dependence on Russia, says Melyantsov. Therefore, he predicts, Minsk will be forced to seek a compromise with Moscow, even if this compromise is not in its favor.
Today, there is simply no alternative for two-way integration, the analyst believes. But the Belarusian authorities will seek "in parallel to develop other areas of cooperation."
The reduced benefits can become the new norm
In particular, Alexander Lukashenko ordered subordinates to seek alternatives to oil supplies. But commentators repeat: it would be much more expensive.
Belarus is advantageous to have an alternative oil supplies at least one to two million tonnes per year, even if the oil is substantially more expensive. Judging by the fact that representatives of Moscow speak in public, even if the resolution of the gas conflict Russian oil deliveries this year recovers to only 18 million tonnes, expert in the Belarusian-Russian relations Kostyugova stressed.
In May 2014, Dvorkovich after talks with First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko signed an agreement under which in 2016-2024 years Russia will supply Belarus by 24 million tons of oil annually.
However, the second half of last year, supplies were cut as a punishment for failure to pay gas debt. What happened to Belarusian partners an unpleasant surprise, because such sanctions are not provided by any treaty. That is, the step was taken in the spirit of home showdown. However, the Belarusian side did not followed the legal methods, from the beginning of 2016 it decided to pay for the gas not on the contract price of 132 dollars per thousand cubic meters, but on one-sided calculated "fair price" - 73 dollars.
As a result, for the last year Belarus has got 18 million tons of oil instead of the 24 million tons.
Now, as we see, this “stripped-down lunch” can become a new norm. In addition, refining itself has become less profitable for Belarus, since exported gasoline and diesel fuel became cheaper. A tax maneuver in the Russian oil industry faces to pull up by the roots the profitability of Belarusian refineries.
Similarly, Moscow methodically trims benefits in other areas, the credits become meaner.
The end of "brotherly integration"
In general, it is obvious: the Belarusian-Russian integration has not exhausted itself, but finally ceased to be "brotherly". This epithet earlier sounded out of tune, and now it is almost out of use. The Kremlin has become tougher and more pragmatic. A Belarusian leader increasingly speaks of threats to the sovereignty, to clearly identify these threats.
This new NATO battalions and tanks in neighboring countries, according to statements made by Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are not perceived as a direct threat to Belarus. Minsk bounces in every possible way from the perspective of strengthening the Russian military presence.
Belarusian leadership has spent too much resources for current normalization of relations with the West. Now it cannot sacrifice it for the sake of the Kremlin's foreign policy ambitions.
During the years of "brotherly integration," Belarusian leadership really has brought the country into a trap, linking all major commitment to Moscow and settling economy on the needle of Russian grants, rather than the reforms.
Now Lukashenko is forced to adopt rhetoric of his domestic opponents concerning eternal threats of independence, disrespect for the indigenous roots of our nation and state ( "We will not allow anyone to humiliate our nation and the state"). Which, by the way, gives rise to a conflict in the minds of the opponents of the regime.
The drama of the moment worsened by the fact that the regime is not prepared to inner Belarusian dialogue and reforms.
This means that in the worst case weakened, Russified, suffering from a deficit of national consciousness, Belarus may be after some time quietly incorporated. It would be forced to maneuver on the brink, torturing economy with pseudo-reforms and remains largely a stranger to Europe.
Yes, and a lot will depend on how “vegetarian” would be the mood of the Kremlin in relation to its neighboring countries.