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“Russia’s concessions to Belarus are politically driven”

A concession on protracted gas talks that had affected the relations and integration processes between Russia and Belarus appears to be the key outcome of the latest meeting of the two countries’ presidents, say experts polled by EADaily. However, experts say they will make final conclusions after details and results of previous arrangements become available.

Mikhail Alexandrov, political scientist, a leading expert at the Center of Military and Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, says the leaders made quite general statements. “We do not know any specific gas supply terms they have agreed upon. It is not clear if Belarus will continue cooperating with us to deepen integration, including coordination of political and military issues, specifically, establishment of our base in Belarus,” Alexandrov says.

Much will depend on whether the Belarusian president will give way to mutual integration, he says. In such case, it will be a progress in the two countries’ relations.

“If these are again just maneuvers to delay fundamental decisions and to gain some time for its collapsing economy, one can hardly call the outcome of the talks successful. So far it is not clear what particular agreements they made and it is untimely to make the verdict,” the expert says.

According to senior expert at the National Energy Security Fund Stanislav Mitrakhovich, technical agreements are being verified. He forecasts that gas price for Belarus will be equal to the one for nearby regions of Russia with a 20% extra charge. “Talks will be held gradually to establish a single gas market to refuse from that 20% extra charge. However, that process will take years. As for the current debt, Belarus will have to pay it anyway, I think. Perhaps, not at once, perhaps within a certain period. As for oil supplies, they will be resumed at full, but I think, it will depend on debt repayment,” the analyst says.

He is sure that Russia made concessions to Belarus for political reasons. “One cannot conflict with a range of countries for long. It is necessary to take a pause at least on several fronts. Besides, Russian pipes run via the territory of Belarus. To avoid risks in the field, it is better to come to terms with Lukashenko,” he says.

Mitrakhovich forecasts further energy dependence on Russia despite Belarus’ efforts to find alternative in the world market. A new wave of conflict is possible in the future, but it will result in a compromise too, he says.

Dmitry Bolkunets, expert at High School of Economics, Russia, in turn, says the key outcome of the two leaders’ talks was settlement of the protracted dispute. “The gas dispute has been resolved, actually. Belarus will have to redeem the accumulated debt. Solution to the gas dispute settles other problems too, in particular, resumption of oil supplies to enterprises in Belarus. The major conclusion is that Belarus had to admit its fault,” he says.

He anticipates the latest meeting to settle several issues in the integration field. “Nothing was mentioned at the meeting about whether Minsk will sing the Customs Code. I think, this issue will be settled and Belarus will sign the code, considering that it linked the issue with the gas dispute. Besides, I hope the issue of further gas price discounts for Belarus in 2018-2019 will be settled too. So far there are no details about it. I think supply of some agricultural products of Belarus to the Russian market will be resumed somehow. I anticipate visits of Russian experts to Belarusian enterprises. Of course, lifting restriction on supply of Belarusian goods is a positive moment. At the same time, I think, during the meeting, the sides touched upon contraband goods supplied via Belarus,” Bolkunets says.

He commented on the statement by First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vasily Matyushevsky saying that Russia will refinance Belarus’ debt in the about of $750-$800 million.

“Considering the critical economic situation in Belarus, the gas debt may be repaid at the expense of the Russian loan. I do not rule out such an option,” the expert says.

As EADaily reported earlier, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko met on April 3 and came out with a statement saying “there is no longer any disputable issues.” Specifically, the sides settled the oil and gas dispute. Belarus pledged to redeem the debt to Gazprom that exceeds $700 million, though it did not admit the debt earlier. Russia pledged to resume oil supplies at full (24 million tons per year). Besides, Russia is ready to provide gas price discounts to Minsk for the coming two years. Reportedly, it may refinance Belarus’ debt of $750-$800 million.

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