Lukashenko Declares a “Gas War” on Russia After Putin’s Free Loan
by Ruslan Ostashko
Translated and captioned by Leo.
A new turn in difficult Russian-Belarusian relations occurred at the end of last week. Rosselkhoznadzor (Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision) announced a ban on the import of apples and pears from Belarus from April 12. In response, Alexander Lukashenko effectively declared a “gas war” on Russia.
In early April, when it became known that Vladimir Putin decided to issue another loan to Minsk, I allowed myself to make a forecast on this occasion.
*Video clip from 2:29-3:30*
“In conclusion, I would say that if my assumptions are correct, then the previously flared conflict with the active participation of Ambassador Mikhail Babich should subside. If the Belarusian officials continue to fool around, it means that the issuance of a new loan was simply a gesture of goodwill from Putin. And after that, we’ll once again see the work of the ‘mad policeman’ who will make Minsk have unpleasant things on various fronts – from the supply of petroleum products to shrimps from the ‘Belarusian sea’ (reference to Jen Psaki’s Belarus having a sea) and coconuts from the Grodno ‘palm trees.’”
Judging by the fact that the Rosselkhoznadzor still imposed a ban on the supply of produce, from apples to pears, from Belarus, the authorities in Minsk did not stop messing around.
“Under the guise of Belarusian products, products can be supplied from countries under sanctions (Russian food embargo on countries that sanctioned it), explained the head of the service, Sergei Dankvert, that the import of strawberries, Chinese cabbage and mushrooms are not excluded.”
Alexander Lukashenko’s answer took aback those who follow the topic of Russian-Belarusian relations.
Alexander Lukashenko: In recent times, well maybe the mainstream media has been lying, maybe the specialists are reporting to me skewed information. But every day I hear and read information that our main trading partner, well, they love calling themselves “partners”, that they are putting more and more sanctions against Belarus. They find themselves under sanctions and condemn it, and here I absolutely support them on that, but at the same time, under that same sanctions weapon, they attack one of their closest allies.
From one enterprise being closed, to another. Then there’s carrots, salads or cucumbers that they didn’t like. Or maybe they have a suspicion that we’re placing something in there [Ed. – Western food that is banned in Russia]. And every day another one of our enterprises are getting closed. They are closing our market. I will bring an example how we took action about 1.5 year ago when I was told by specialists that our pipeline is in an emergency state, which, the last time I checked, goes through Belarus. Particularly through the oil industry. And we would have had to close it for a few days to fix the pipelines. But we of course didn’t take that action. We understood that it would create damage for the Russian Federation. And then I instructed to work in an emergency fashion, but not to close these “roads”. From which is transported the main export product of the Russian Federation – oil.
This question stays even currently in the agenda. Which is why I will ask the Vice-premier, Igor Lyashenko [Ed. – Belneftekhim Chairman], so if we do need to put a pipeline or oil product pipelines that go through Belarus into repairs, halt it and repair it. Because with the good that we’re doing for the Russian Federation, they turn around and constantly respond with evil. They already became brazen to such a degree where they are now twisting our hands.
Against the background of a recently received loan, the phrase “became brazen to such a degree” looks somewhat ambiguous. In fact, Minsk decided to raise the stakes, threatening the same things that Ukraine had repeatedly blackmailed Russia with interruptions in energy transit.
And in order to emphasize the painfulness of such measures for our country, Lukashenko even emphasized that oil is the main export commodity of Russia. That is, covertly called our country a “gas station” (phrase that John McCain once used.) He probably got the phrase from his American ‘partners.’
Although, by the way, last year, in monetary terms, non-primary exports from Russia overtook raw materials, reaching $235 billion.
And so, Minsk raised the stakes by openly blackmailing Moscow. Russian leadership simply cannot afford to ignore these actions. Just as they cannot afford to bend over. If Minsk decides that Putin can be blackmailed by blocking pipelines, then they will certainly repeat blackmailing again.
That is, in essence, the question is what asymmetrical answer the Kremlin came up with to trick a slippery Belarusian ally. A trick that, according to rumors, caused some damage by the Rosselkhoznadzor to Lukashenko’s personal wallet.
“The essence of the new crisis in relations with Belarus is very simple: the Russian side has stopped the flow of fruit smuggling, in the near future the same will happen with vegetables. Just recently at the border, 100 cars containing apples and pears were stopped without any documents. Pure, loose contraband. A direct blow to the financial interests of the Lukashenko family.”
By the way, an asymmetrical response may be the loss-related switching of a part of the transit oil flows to sea transportation. It is expensive, but it will cause great damage to Belarus. Because by declaring a “gas war”, Lukashenko somehow forgot that his potato republic really needs money.
“Temporary closure of the sites is fraught for Russian oilmen with large losses and problems, including an increase in transportation costs, warns Senior Director of the Corporation Department “Fitch”, Dmitry Marinchenko. About 1 million barrels of oil per day is pumped through the Druzhba pipeline, not counting Belarus’s supply itself, which is about 20% of Russian exports. Fully redeploying these supplies into ports probably will not work, he warns. Long interruptions in the supply of oil from Russia are fraught with an energy crisis, says Marinchenko: Russian oil imports are strongly depended on by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But for Minsk it would create risks – it will lose both oil and revenues from its transit.”
So basically, Russia will simply incur losses, but it will survive. But the Belarusian budget may well become very shortened. And all of this are closely watched by the Western “partners”, for whom Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei actually works for.
“Makei is well aware that the price of a harsh and rash divorce from Russia is the collapse of Belarus. After receiving warnings from Russia, he only thinks that it is necessary to burn the bridges before 2020. While getting signals from the Russian ambassador, Babich, about how both the role and the goal of Makei are clear, he tries hard to exacerbate relations between the two allied states, without worrying at all what Lukashenko will say. If in London they give the order to start a war with Russia, he would go even for that. For him, this is the price of his personal future.”
Yes, all this is happening within the framework of attempts to tear off Belarus from Russia and turn it into a second Ukraine. Will Makei succeed in crowning his political career with such a tremendous betrayal, and whether Lukashenko will be able to retain power, we will soon find out. 2020 is getting closer.
Oh yeah, Belarusian specialists don’t seem to be wanting to following the instructions of Lukashenko to halt the pipeline.
“Andrei Verigo, Chief Engineer of Gomeltransneft Druzhba OJSC, confirmed that it is planned to cut off 5 pipe sections. But he clarified that all work will be carried out taking into account plans for the transportation of oil. ‘There are obligations and we must fulfill them in full. For 2019, the transit of Russian oil was agreed in the amount of 50 million tons, which corresponds to the level of last year,’ said Andrei Verigo.”
This is what I mean when I say that Russia actually has no conflicts with the Belarusian people. But Minsk princes – they are a completely different matter.