Belarus Watch Briefing. Issue #14

November 26, 2021
Read a new issue of a bi-weekly newsletter with monitoring of Russian activities and influence in Belarus to know more.
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On November 11, Alyaksandar Lukashenka threatened EU countries with cutting off gas transiting from Russia to Europe through the Yamal gas pipeline. Although the Kremlin denies any knowledge of the situation, there are some signs that in these threats Minsk and Moscow have acted together.

Recent policy developments

The Gas Crisis: how and why Lukashenka and Russia are trying to blackmail EU countries

Lukashenka wouldn't speak out on such a sensitive topic without the Kremlin's approval. Being deeply dependent on Moscow, the Belarusian regime leader isn't able to pursue an independent international policy. Furthermore, the Yamal pipeline belongs to Russia. Belarus sold it to RussianGazprom" for USD $2.5 billion at the end of 2011. And finally, the pipeline block represents a major disadvantage to the Belarusian economy. By agreeing to the sale of Beltransgaz, in case of gas transit restriction, the Belarusian side is obligated to pay back all of Beltransgaz stocks from Gazprom for $5 billion and compensate all of the losses. But someone was sure that this did not happen this time.

How does Russia benefit from Belarusian threats?

It was reported on November 16 that Germany suspended the procedure to certify Nord Stream 2 AG as an independent transmission operator. The divisive and concerningl project that Russia has tried to complete by all means was paused once again. Analysts believe that by threatening Europe with restricted gas transit through the Yamal pipeline, Russia is seeking to unblock Nord Stream 2 and speed up its launch. With a cold winter approaching, any method is permitted to drive forward this Russian energy project.

How does the situation benefit Lukashenka?

The Belarusian dictator is trying to expand his political capital and benefit from this situation. He hopes for an easing of sanctions and official negotiations with EU countries, which he believes would assert himself as a credible political leader. His main goal is to force Europe to make concessions.

Migrants storm the border of Poland. EU is worried, Moscow is satisfied

Migrants from the Middle East and North and East Africa flooded Belarus seeking to enter the EU through the Belarus-EU border. In November, the crisis worsened. Riots broke out on border crossings and in migrant camps. To stop migrants, the Polish military forces used water cannons and gas. Several people died, while dozens were injured.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies that his country has a part in the crisis. But the following evidence tells a different story.

  1. Belarus does not have a common border with countries where the migrants came from. But analysts forecast a worst-case scenario in which it may be establishing new migration corridors from Afghanistan to the Belarus-Poland border which can be used by thousands of refugees.

  2. Analysts considerthat in provoking the crisis, Russia gains valuable insights about the war immunity of Poland and the whole eastern wing of NATO. It offers a chance to gather data about how the opponents act in a time of emergency and to update its operative data. The situation may reveal vulnerable spots of the eastern flank of NATO which is extremely valuable for Russian military forces and secret services.

  3. This "hybrid attack" by using people in need destabilizes the political situation in Europe. The situation around migrants has polarized political establishments, and caused public alarm and condemnation of actions taken against the migrants. For example, chaos on borders has caused internal political conflict in Poland and Lithuania on the question of what to do with migrants.

  4. Under the migration crisis and "humanitarian mission" cover, Russia can and probably will intervene further in Belarus. It recalls the Crimean scenario and makes it more probable in Belarus. But that won't happen as long as Lukashenka is beneficial for Moscow as an acting dictator.

Through this crisis, Lukashenka is trying to establish himself as an independent political figure and gain a foothold for independent acting. On the other hand, he plays a multifaceted game with Russia and the Russian political establishment. The migrant crisis might be only one dimension of that play.

Moscow calls on the Belarusian authorities to engage in dialogue with the opposition

While speaking at an expanded collegium at the Russian Foreign Ministry on November 18, 2021,Vladimir Putin urged the Belarusian authorities to enter into dialogue with the opposition.

"Yes, we know and understand that the situation in Belarus has calmed down inside the country; nevertheless, there are problems. We are well aware of this and, of course,call for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition," said Putin.

Referring to what is happening on the Belarusian-Polish border, Putin said that Western countries are using the migration crisis to put pressure on Minsk and as "a new reason for tension in the region close to us." Earlier, the Kremlin stated that Russia is prepared to become a mediator in the conflict between Belarus and the EU, which arose due to the migration crisis.

Energy and economy

Privatization

On November 4, 2021, a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia was held in the format of a videoconference, which resulted in a Decree on the guidelines for implementing the provisions of the treaty establishing the Union State for 2021-2023. The document approves 28 union programs to deepen the economic integration of the two countries. A new military doctrine of the Union State and a concept of migration policy were also signed.

The State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev stated that citizens of the Russian Federation will be able to participate in the privatization of Belarusian assets on the same basis as citizens of Belarus without any discrimination, although without protectionism. "If we say that these enterprises will go for equity, then, probably, the equity terms at this stage will not be discriminatory for Russian business. But they probably won't be protectionist either. It will be necessary to determine its share within the market, " Mezentsev said. At the same time, he stressed that "this is not a matter of today, but of tomorrow." He noted that "in principle, no one should artificially build obstacles here."

Finance

According to Presidential Decree 440 of November 15, 2021, the Eurasian Development Bank willprovide the Belarusian authorities with a three-year loan totalling 314.5 million euros. Technically, funds will be provided to the Development Bank to finance most of the important economic projects of the state before December 1, 2024 under the guarantee of the Government of the Republic of Belarus (hereinafter - a guaranteed loan). The document states that there is no charge for the loan guarantee from the Government of Belarus. The Decree does not specify the interest rate or other loan conditions.

Energy

During the sixth session of the seventh convocation, the deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarusapproved the draft law "On ratification of the Protocol on Amendments to the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on the procedure for setting prices (tariffs) for the supply of natural gas to the Republic of Belarus and its transportation through gas pipelines located on the territory of the Republic of Belarus, dated November 25, 2011". The protocol defines the principles for the formation and setting of prices for imported Russian natural gas supplied to Belarus in 2021. According to the document, the gas price for Belarus in 2021 is determined by indexing the gas price in effect in 2020 ($127 per 1,000 cubic meters) by the inflation rate determined in accordance with Article 1 of the agreement and is $128.52 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Energy Minister of Belarus Viktor Karankevich and General Director of the State Atomic Energy Corporation "Rosatom" Alexei Likhachev signed an agreement between the governments of the two countries on cooperation in the transportation of nuclear materials. The document was signed as part of the implementation of the union program in the field of atomic energy, approved by the heads of state on November 4. The agreement defines the procedure for the transportation of nuclear materials between the two countries.

Healthcare

Belarus is preparing to start full-scale production of the Sputnik V vaccine. In June 2022, the vaccine produced in Belarus should go into civilian circulation. After the start of production, Belarus will stop purchasing vaccines from abroad. The vaccine production capacity will be 10 million doses per year, of which 4 million doses are intended for Belarus. The rest can be exported.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has demonstrated 96.3% efficacy against COVID-19 during the vaccination campaign in Belarus, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday, down from 97.2% efficacy reported in September. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is marketing the two-shot vaccine abroad, said the study was based on data from more than 1.2 million people who had been vaccinated with both Sputnik V components between January and September 2021.

Public Administration

Meeting of Foreign Ministries of Russia and Belarus in Moscow

On November 10, Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Makei took part in the annual meeting of collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries in Moscow. The Ministers discussed current issues in bilateral relations and cooperation in conditions of "external pressure". The formal result of this meeting was the signing of the Program of coordinated foreign policy actions for 2022-2023 and the Plan of Consultations between the MFA of two countries for 2022. The Ministers paid special attention to the issue of "politicization of Human Rights", which is allegedly promoted by Western countries. The next meeting of collegiums of the Russian and Belarusian Foreign Ministries will take place in Minsk in autumn 2022.

Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev makes regional visits

On November 15, the Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev, a Russian citizen himself, met with Alexander Beglov, the Governor of Saint Petersburg. On November 18, Mezentsev visited the Irkutsk region, where he had an official meeting with Governor Igor Kobzev. At these meetings with the Russian Governors, Dmitry Mezentsev discussed the development of cooperation between the Russian regions and Belarus. According to the words of Governor Beglov, Saint Petersburg is ready to develop cooperation with Belarusian universities and scientific organizations. In general, it may be surprising that the issues of the Belarusian-Russian cooperation are discussed without any participation of Belarusian state functionaries.

Military and law-enforcement agencies

Russian strategic bombers fly over Belarus

On November 10, two Russian TU-22М3 bombers entered Belarusian airspace in order to gauge the capability of Belarusian air-defence systems. The next day, two Russian strategic TU-160 bombers flew over the territory of Belarus, taking part in a simulated bombing exercise. The TU-160 bombers are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, so their flights over Belarus should be perceived as a clear warning to NATO and the EU. According to Russian experts, the flights of TU-160 bombers over Belarus is a manifestation of the Russian military might to the West and a sign of the full Russian support for Lukashenka's actions on the border.

On November 11, Alexander Lukashenka made clear his request to the Russian Ministry of Defense to join Belarusian forces in the protection of the borders of the Union State. Apparently, Lukashenka wants the Russian strategic bombers to carry out regular flights along Belarusian borders.

Russian airborne operation close to the Polish and Lithuanian border

On November 12, a unit of the Russian airborne troops landed on a military training ground near Grodno (5 km from the Lithuanian border and 25 km from the Polish border). During the landing, two Russian paratroopers died because of an accident. This unexpected military training took place during recent the aggravation of the "migration crisis" at the Polish-Belarusian border. These Russian actions are perceived as both a sign of the Kremlin's full support for Lukashenka's border provocations against Poland, and also a direct Russian military blackmail against NATO and the EU.

Meeting of the Secretaries of Security Councils of the CIS countries

On November 17, there was a meeting of the Secretaries of Security Councils of the CIS members in Moscow. The main topics of the meeting were migration, cyber-crime and security threats connected to Afghanistan. According to the statement of Alexander Volfovich (Head of the Belarusian Security Council), European countries have shown their "complete failure to discuss current problems in a civilized way -- the West manipulates the Human Rights issues and treats the migrants trying to enter the EU in a harsh way".

In Moscow, Alexander Volfovich discussed the Belarusian-Russian security cooperation with the Head of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev. They signed a Plan of cooperation between the Security Councils of the two states for 2022-2023.

Belarus Watch Team

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