The recent energy conflict between Moscow and Minsk could have various objectives. The Kremlin probably wanted to intimidate Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko to remind him to which extent Belarus depended on Russia’s fuel supplies. Russian authorities also intended to show the government of Belarus its place and make them understand that the well-being of Belarus depends on Russia. To crown it all, Russia needs to receive money for the fuel that it delivers to Belarus. The list may continue with other reasons. The oil and gas scandal with Belarus differs from a similar controversy Russia had with Ukraine last year. The conflict with Ukraine was based on Russia’s aspiration to prove that Ukraine’s pro-Western political course implies Western prices on natural gas too.
Brushing all the above-mentioned reasons aside, Moscow has arrived to one and the same result: Russia’s energy scandals with post-Soviet states raise deep concerns in Europe. In the very beginning of 2006 Europe faced the danger of losing fuel supplies from Russia. European leaders could find a logic explanation to that situation, though: the political crisis, or the orange revolution in Ukraine. This logic does not work with Belarus. Europe has absolutely no interest in personal relations between Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko. Many probably know that Russia has always tried to stand up for Belarus and defend Lukashenko’s political decisions even if they blatantly contradicted to international standards. At present moment, Russia’s Minister for Economic Development and Trade Guerman Gref talks about new possible ways of oil and gas transportation. Such statements of the minister are very hard to understand because the current power in Belarus has not changed – it is still the same as several years ago. The state of affairs is similar in Russia too. Nevertheless, Moscow and Minsk exchange reprimands and block pipelines.
It brings up the idea that Russia may have too many problems with its neighbouring countries. On the one hand, Russia highly values its reputation of fuel supplier on the international market. On the other hand, Russia also needs to preserve its influence on the post-Soviet space. Russia may eventually lose Belarus like it practically lost Ukraine. Nothing will change in Russia's geopolitical position if it continues to sell fuel maintaining or even increasing current sales volumes.
Belarus resumed oil supplies on the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline yesterday and returned the entire volume of oil to European consumers which they had lost during the Russia-Belarus energy standoff. The conflict is over. However, the happy end has not solved the political problem. It most likely goes about a short timeout. Russia will resume its tough political dialogue with Belarus very soon and give rise to new business conflicts between the two “friendly” countries.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov