Belarus Watch Briefing. Issue #13

November 16, 2021
Read a new issue of bi-weekly newsletter with monitoring of Russian activities and influence in Belarus to know more.
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RECENT POLICY DEVELOPMENTS

Lukashenka's Belarus moves closer to Putin by signing of Russia-Belarus Union State Agreements

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have affirmed their brotherly ties and approved 28 'union programs' aimed at integrating the two countries. The two leaders finalized the programs following talks in the Kremlin on September 9. On Thursday, November 4 during a virtual summit meeting of the Union State of Russia and Belarus's Supreme State Council,Lukashenka and Putin signed an agreement, officially approving the programs.

Reportedly,these union programs include mechanisms for the development of a common economic space: the formation of joint industry markets, and harmonized financial, tax, credit, pricing, and trade policies.

In addition, during the summit the two leaders approved the concept of a common migration policy and an updated joint military doctrine. There was no mention of issues surrounding political integration.

Despite the impressive number of programs, the development of the Union State has not advanced. Over 20 years ago, "The Treaty of Creation of the Union State of Russia and Belarus" was signed and came into firce. The Treaty foresaw a unified currency, creation of the Parliament, flag, coat of arms, hymn, and Constitution of the Union State, none of which has yet become a reality. From this point of view, the Union State establishment is a total failure.

Viktar Lukashenka holds talks with Prime Minister of Qatar

Qatar's Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdelaziz Al-Thani met with Viktar Lukashenka on November 7, the local newspaper The Peninsula reported, while official Minsk remained silent.

The son of Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited Qatar as the Special Envoy to the Cooperation Council of the Gulf States and the president of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus.

The article only mentions that the Sheikh and Viktor Lukashenko "reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and ways of enhancing and developing them, in addition to discussing a number of issues of common interest." No further details of the negotiations were published.

ENERGY AND ECONOMY

Trade Turnover

The results of trade turnover between Russia and Belarus: during the last eight months of this year, trade turnover increased by 35%, reaching USD 25 billion. This data was presented on Tuesday, November 9, by the head of the Belarusian diplomatic mission to Russia Uladzimir Syamashka during the expert session "Russian-Belarusian Relations in 2021: Union Programs, New Challenges and Areas of Integration". The Belarusian Ambassador stressed that the parties are planning "to reach record figures in economic relations, somewhere around 37-38 billion dollars, this year". According to the Ambassador, the Russian Federation accounts for almost half (49%) of the external trade turnover of the Republic of Belarus. As such, Belarus, along with China, Germany and the Netherlands, is one of the four countries with which the Russian Federation has the largest volumes of trade.

Energy

On November 9, 2021, Minister of Energy of the Republic of Belarus Viktar Karankevich and Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation Nikolai Shulginov signed a Protocol amending the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on the procedure for forming prices (tariffs) for supplying natural gas to the Republic of Belarus and for its transportation. The protocol defines the procedure for forming prices for supplying natural gas to Belarus in 2022.

The specific gas price level will be determined in a joint document with PJSC Gazprom and will be based on 2021 conditions. Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised that the next year's price of gas for Belarus would remain at the level of 2021.

In the current year, Belarus buys fuel at a rate of USD 128 per thousand cubic meters. At the same time, the final gas price for unprivileged buyers in Belarus can reach USD 300-350 per thousand cubic meters.

On November 8, the chairman of the Belneftekhim concern, Andrei Rybakou, made the following statement at a meeting with journalists: "We have already redirected our supplies to the ports of the Russian Federation. We estimate that even though the planned amount was about 1.7 million tonnes, we will actually deliver at least 2.3 million tonnes by the end of the year". By the end of the year, Belarus will exceed the planned amount of oil products supplied via Russian ports by 35%. 

Ukraine signs a contract for the purchase of electricity from Belarus

According to the press service of the Belarusian Energy Ministry, since November 6 Belarus has resumed commercial electricity supplies to Ukraine. Under the signed contract, energy deliveries will be carried out during November. The Belarusian side formed the delivery schedule, taking into account the available technical capabilities: operating modes of the power system and the capacity of generating equipment.

Earlier it was reported that Ukraine intends to resume importing electricity from Belarus due to a shortage of coal at the state-owned thermal power plant. The Ukrainian state-owned company Energoatom bought out a section with 885 MW to import electricity from Belarus in November. Electro Community acquired another 15 MW.

Transport

If the West places a ban on the leasing of aircraft to the Belarusian "Belavia" airline, the company may switch to Russian aircraft, stated Artem Sikorsky, head of the Belarusian Transport Ministry's aviation department, on November 3 in Minsk. Russian leasing companies have a theoretical capability to supply Belavia with SSJ 100 and foreign-made aircrafts to replace its existing fleet, says Oleg Panteleyev, executive director of the Aviaport agency.

Second Belarusian Proposal to Unify Air Transportation Regulations of Belarus and the Russian Federation

Minsk's proposal to respond to Belarus's potential separation from the global aviation data system by creating a unified Belarus-Russia aviation administration will not lead to the desired results, according to industry participants. Its implementation may take a decade, while this idea is not even discussed in the relevant Russian departments. The statements of the Belarusian aviation authorities about the possible unification of aviation regulators of Russia and Belarus against the backdrop of the threat of Minsk falling under European sanctions look premature for Russian aviation.

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

Meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State

On November 4, the political leadership of Russia and Belarus took part in the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, which was organized in the form of a video conference. The previous meetings of the Supreme State Council took place in 2000 and 2018. President Putin took part in this online event from the city of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea, where he arrived for a celebration of the Russian Unity Day.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka asked Putin to "invite him to Crimea next time" — it was the first public suggestion by Lukashenka that he is officially prepared to recognize Russian control over the annexed peninsula.

The main result of this meeting was the signing of the "integration decree" of the Union State, which approved 28 "integration roadmaps" — these agreements are supposed to be realized in the upcoming future.

Aside from the "integration roadmaps", Putin and Lukashenka adopted the updated Military Doctrine of the Union State and the project of a common Migration Policy. President Putin also suggested sending a Belarusian cosmonaut to the International Space Station within the Russian crew.

MILITARY AND LAW-ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

New Military Doctrine of the Union State

On November 4, Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin approved the updated Military Doctrine of the Union State (replacing the previous Doctrine from 2001, which had become outdated). The project of the new Military Doctrine of the Union State was adopted by the Belarusian and Russian authorities already in 2018, but its formal approval took place only at the recent meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.

According to the words of the Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev, the new Military Doctrine is a reaction to the Western pressure on Russia and Belarus — Vladimir Putin believes that Russia must react to the growing military presence of NATO along its borders.

Possibly, the Military Doctrine of the Union State will be closer to the content of the 2014 Military Doctrine of Russia than to the current Military Doctrine of Belarus — it means that this document may contain some "anti-NATO" elements.

Belarusian military takes part in the "Indestructible Brotherhood-2021" exercises

The Belarusian soldiers will take part in the military exercises "Indestructible Brotherhood-2021", taking place on November 8-12 in Tatarstan. This training is organized within the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The soldiers of the CSTO countries will simulate the implementation of a "peacekeeping operation". According to Russian experts, this military exercise is connected to the unstable situation in Afghanistan and increasing terrorist threats in the Middle Asian countries.

Visit of the Russian Prosecutor-General to Belarus

On October 28, Russian Prosecutor-General Igor Krasnov arrived in Belarus on an official visit, where he met with Alyaksandr Lukashenka. According to the words of Krasnov, there has been an increasing number of external attempts to destabilize the situation in Belarus and Russia.

At this meeting, Lukashenka made severalanti-Polish statements, accusing this country of "aggressive" actions at the border.

According to Lukashenka, Poland has responded to the migration crisis with increased militarization of the border areas, which poses a threat to Belarus and Russia.

CIVIL SOCIETY

Belarusian Supreme Court liquidated Belarusian Language Society

On November 8, the High Court of Belarus liquidated the "Belarusian Language Society" NGO, one of the oldest and largest cultural organizations in Belarus with the mission to support and develop the Belarusian language. About 300 NGOs in Belarus have been liquidated this year.

Belarus Watch Team

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