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“Russia must not fall victim to Belarusian oil blackmailing”

Belarus’s decision to raise oil transit tariffs for Russia is a signal that the Russian-Belarusian gas talks have reached a stalemate. This decision has no economic grounds and is nothing but an attempt to blackmail Russia in order to improve own negotiating positions, experts have told EADaily.

“Belarus has few serious levers for pressuring Russia. So, it was just a strong political provocation. It was a deliberate step. And the goal was to get concessions in the gas talks. The rumors that the gas price for Belarus has been reduced almost to the Russian level and that the country’s gas debt has been waived have not yet been confirmed. If they are true, this would be Russia’s fiasco. It seems that the Russians have refused to do this and Belarus was forced to go to extremes,” Head of Sector at Economic Department of the Institute for Energy and Finance Sergey Agibalov said.

“Belarus did not coordinate its decision with Russia. The rules say that if the companies fail to come to terms, they should appeal to regulatory authorities. If the latter are also unable to find a solution, the tariff may be raised to an amount equivalent to a stipulated rate plus inflation – some 10-15%. In February, Belarus already raised the tariff. This time it had no grounds for raising it so much. It faced no economic emergencies, skyscraping prices or slumping currency rates,” Agibalov said.’

Such conflicts, according to the expert, are having a negative effect on the Russian-Belarusian relations. “They show that everything is shaky here and can fall apart at any moment. Belarus’s debt was not worth breaking years-long decisions,” Agibalov said.

Now Russia has a pretext for redirecting its transit from Belarus to the northeast or some other routes. “But I hope that Russia will not capitulate on gas and will not fall victim to Belarus’s blackmail as this would spoil its positions in other similar talks,” Agibalov said.

According to Head of the Analytical Department at the National Energy Security Fund Alexander Pasechnik, this is a stalemate. “Belarus owes Russia more than $300mn for gas because its companies prefer paying us according to their own tariff rather than the existing contract. The talks are giving no results. Now they have covered the oil sector. The Russians acted the first by limiting their oil supplies to Belarusian refineries. The Belarusians counteracted by raising oil transit tariffs. Both decisions were politically motivated. The sides are trying to strengthen their negotiating positions. As of today, I see no ways for them to settle their conflict. Transneft has already qualified the raise as a violation. Partners do not act like this,” Pasechnik said.

“The tariff will be raised on Oct 11. The Belarusians gave us time for consideration. I don’t know what will happen next but we are not inclined to break our cooperation. We are committed to settle this problem. The Belarusians must repay their gas debt and we may give them a discount for the next year. Blackmail is unacceptable here. We will look for a compromise and perhaps the Belarusians will revoke their decision to raise the tariffs,” Pasechnik said.

For some time already the Belarusians have been paying for Russian gas according to own tariff rather than the prices stipulated by the contract. They say that the fair price is $70-80 per 1,000 c m. According to Gazprom, they owe it as much as $300mn. This summer Russia limited its oil supplies to Belarus because of the gas dispute. Recently there were rumors that the sides were close to agreement on gas. But they were disproved by the Belarusians’ last week decision to raise their transit tariff for Russian oil.

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