Pompeo with lukashenko

Pompeo with lukashenko

Alexander Lukashenko and Mike Pompeo in Minsk. Image: state.gov

In the Face of Increasing Russian Prere, Belarus Strives in a Geopolitical Balancing Act for a Rapid Approach to the West

There has been official radio silence between Washington and Minsk for more than 26 years. After more than a quarter of a century, Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, visited the Belarusian capital in early February. Thus, after this long ice age, Washington seems to want to seize the opportunity to improve relations with the country known in the West as the "Europe’s last dictatorship" to thaw out the republic of Belarus, which has gained a bad reputation. Currently, Belarus and Russia are in a bitter dispute over fossil energy carriers and the construction of a common union state.

The bilateral talks, during which Popmeo also met with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, revolved around the rapid normalization of relations between Belarus and the U.S. on a political level. The US Secretary of State spoke of "real progress", achieved in the negotiations with the. His Belarusian counterpart called the meeting an "important impetus for normalization of relations" of both states.

Pompeo: "The "United States wants to help Belarus build an independent country" – with US ol

Both sides agreed to exchange ambassadors again. Moreover, Pompeo held out the prospect of lifting the U.S. sanctions imposed by Washington since 2006 due to the authoritarian tendencies in Belarus. This, however, only with progress on ies of democracy and human rights in the country. Alexander Lukashenko, a former director of a Soviet sovkhoz, has ruled his country uninterruptedly since 1994. In the last elections in Belarus not a single opposition candidate was elected.

The sanctions are already partially lifted. The economic core of the visit was the fossil energy policy. Mike Pompeo said at a news conference in Minsk on Saturday that the United States is able and willing to meet the oil and gas needs of the Republic of Belarus – and to do so with "competitive prices". In talks with Lukashenko, the U.S. deputy secretary asserted that with this energy deal the "sovereignty and "Independence" to consolidate the position of the Republic of Belarus. The "United States wants to help Belarus build an independent country at", said Pompeo. The energy producers of the USA are ready to meet "100 percent" of the demand for fossil fuels: "We are the biggest energy producer in the world and all you have to do is call us."

These remarks, reminiscent of a commercial, were indirectly directed at Moscow, which is engaged in an unusually sharp energy policy conflict with Minsk. Here Washington senses an opportunity to loosen or even sever Belarus’s ties with Russia. The EU also seems to be willing to make concessions at this time. In early January, Brussels announced that it would relax entry requirements for Belarusians.

In the clinch with Russia

After the closely allied post-Soviet states failed to agree on a new oil price for 2020 following protracted negotiations at the end of 2019, Russia suspended all deliveries of the fossil energy carrier at short notice on 1 January 2019. January one. This blockade was announced on 4. January partially lifted again. The Belarusian state oil company Belneftekhim reported that the Russian pipeline operator Transneft had cancelled 133.000 metric tons of oil, enough to supply the "operations of the country’s refineries in January 2020" maintain. Russian supplies are to remain on the old terms until the end of February.

Lukashenko uses this time to seek, by hook or by crook, alternatives to the Russian Rohol in the West. Belarus has so far met most of its energy needs with Russian fossil fuels. In mid-January, it became public that Belarus had found about 80.000 metric tons of crude oil by rail from Norway to compensate for the threat of loss from Russia at great cost.

Lukashenko declared that in the future only 40 percent of oil needs will be covered by Russia, Belarus will import about 30 percent through the Baltic States, and the remaining 30 percent will enter the country through Ukraine. Lukashenko’s ambitious plans to diversify the energy supply are a step in the right direction "clear signal to the Kremlin", explained a Belarusian analyst to the US news agency AP, "he’s ready to tighten his belt, but he’s not ready to become a Russian governor".

The fight for the Rohol prices between Minsk and Moscow is thus only a current scene in the strategic efforts of the Kremlin to induce the Republic of Belarus to a union of both countries. By way of background, according to Russian state broadcaster R" Belarus imported all of its crude oil from Russia last year, although Belarusian attempts to diversify supplies had been made earlier. These had failed however, since the Russian product "more competitive" was.

Belarus received its crude oil from Russia until 2020 at reduced conditions, in theory it should even be supplied at Russian domestic prices, as both countries agreed in 1999 on the creation of a common union state. This long-term unification process was to be prompted by the low domestic prices for energy carriers. Originally, it was the former collective farm director Lukashenko – who publicly regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union for many years – who called for this Russian-Belarusian unification process, which was initiated in 1997, because he speculated on succeeding the alcoholic Boris Yeltsin. The authoritarian President of Belarus is not considered corrupt, which earned him a lot of sympathy in the late 1990s, even in oligarchically dysfunctional Russia.

But in the meantime, the balance of power in relations between the two countries has shifted in favor of Moscow and Putin’s state oligarchy, leaving Lukashenko with little prospect of a near-equal share in power in a Eurasian union state. Now Moscow is pushing for the realization of the 1999 union project, while Belarus is putting the brakes on it. At the end of 2019, Putin and Medvedev declared that the integration of the two countries could not be completed without joint security and common supranational institutions. The Belarusian side, however, insists on the fact that Moscow and Minsk acted equally and with the same means of power in these institutions, which hardly seems feasible in view of the prevailing power relations.

As a result, the Kremlin has started to impose political conditions on the supply of cheap oil, with Putin being able to invoke the 1999 Union Treaty. Supplies at domestic prices are to be provided only if Belarus is absorbed into the Russian Federation in one form or another. For Minsk, this Russian tactic of using oil prices as a lever of power poses a fundamental economic problem, since it involves not only its own supply of fossil fuels, but also an important source of foreign currency for the landlocked country. Processing and export of Russian crude oil in the country’s refineries is an important source of foreign exchange for Belarus.

In addition, Putin has other economic means with which he can put Belarus under prere. Russia was the most important export market for Belarusian products in the first half of 2019, accounting for 40.3 percent of the total, while only 27 percent of all Belarusian exports went to the European Union. Conclusion: In spite of all declarations of the USA, a total disengagement of Belarus from the orbit of the Russian Federation seems to be economically hardly feasible – it would be accompanied by the most severe socio-economic upheavals in Belarus, which would endanger the stability of Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. This should also be clear to the Belarusian head of state. After all, Belarus had to pay for the American Rohol somehow – ol was transformed from a foreign exchange earner to an economic cost factor.

Geopolitical Balancing Act

It seems more likely that Lukashenko is attempting a geopolitical balancing act in order to prolong the independence of his authoritarian country. At the same time Minsk was trying to get concessions from both East and West by threatening to defect to the other camp. Lukashenko’s situation remains precarious, however, primarily because with these tactics he has "Europe’s last dictatorship" opens up possibilities for intervention: The democratization demanded by the West makes Western overthrows along the lines of the Ukrainian model conceivable, while the threat of economic blockades by Moscow could quickly destroy the economic and thus also the political stability of the landlocked country.

In fact, Minsk seems to be preparing for turbulent times. Shortly after his fierce criticism of the Kremlin, which he "Fraud" In the short term, Lukashenko ordered military maneuvers and a rapid reconstruction of the military apparatus. The Minister of Defense, high-ranking military and intelligence officers were replaced, while the army was reorganized on 30 September. The Russian government was put on alert in January to ensure its "readiness to carry out its tasks in a rapidly changing environment" to prove.

A few days earlier, on 24. January, Lukashenko addressed workers at a paper mill in eastern Belarus to prepare them for the upheavals to come. The Belarusian leader openly accused the Kremlin of using his country’s dependence to merge Belarus into Russia. However, he could not give Belarus a new name "betrayed and disbanded, even if it is the brotherly Russia" Lukashenko said: "We have our own country, sovereign and independent. We build it, we earn what we can, with our brains and hands. And we can not be part of another country." It is an honor to be the first president of the Republic of Belarus," said the president "last dictator of Europe", but he also wanted to make sure, "that I will not be the last".

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