Sep 11, 2021
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Putin “bought” Belarus for gas, but not Lukashenko

In the photo: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (second from left) and Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko (right) during a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State

In the photo: Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin (second from left) and Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko (right) during a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State (Photo: Dmitry Astakhov / POOL / TASS)

In Minsk on September 10 with the participation of the Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin it is planned to approve a new package of integration documents for Russia and Belarus, consisting of 28 programs. The decision of the Council of Ministers of the Union State (SG) should “finalize” the agreements reached the day before Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko

Moscow and Minsk agreed to move to a common macroeconomic and industrial policy. A unified methodology for accounting for indirect taxes and a body to control them will be created. Business entities of both countries will receive equal rights, including general access to government orders. Citizens will receive equal rights in the economic and social spheres within the framework of the SG.

Russian support for the Belarusian economy will continue. The gas price in 2022 will remain at $ 128 per cubic meter, and will not even be indexed to the level of dollar inflation. Until December 2023, it is planned to create a single gas market, and then electricity and oil products. Moscow will also provide Minsk with a loan of $ 640 million.

There will not be a single currency yet, a common parliament is possible, but in the future. In general, we are not talking about political integration. Unless the construction of a common defense space will continue (the joint exercises “West-2021” have just begun in Belarus). Nevertheless, Lukashenka called the agreements reached a “breakthrough”.

Director General of the EAEU Institute Vladimir Lepekhin doubts the possibility of pursuing a common economic policy.

– Putin, apparently, persuaded Lukashenko to approve all the “road maps”, including the most difficult – the gas one. It was beneficial for Lukashenka to agree with him in words in order to move on. But there may be many problems in the future. For example, the growing debt of Belarus to Russia is approaching $ 20 billion. Will it be redeemed? It seems that Minsk is counting on him to be forgiven. But during the negotiations they preferred not to talk about it.

Bargaining with the participation of both sides of one Union State will continue in the future. Lukashenko devotes most of his time to Russia. And Putin cannot deal with Belarus all the time. Since from our side a large number of subjects (corporations, officials) who are not motivated to defend the interests of Russia participate in the bargaining, Lukashenka will “squeeze” them in these disputes. Therefore, economic cooperation is more beneficial to Belarus.

“SP”: – A unified macroeconomic and, in particular, industrial policy has been declared …

– Russia has no industrial policy. Therefore, there can be no “single” policy for the Union State. Belarus is trying to export products of the agro-industrial complex, but for Russia this is not a priority. All conversations about the export of high value-added products remain with us as conversations. The Russian Federation has a priority on the export of raw materials abroad. In this sense, Belarus is of interest to Russian commodity corporations as a transit state.

The Russian military-industrial complex is interested in the supply of equipment and components within the framework of the Soviet cooperation. But our military-industrial complex, being formally state-owned, in terms of the management system, in terms of interaction with the budget, operate as private. If it is profitable for them to cooperate with the Belarusians, they cooperate, but if an alternative appears, even the Western one, they can easily reorient themselves.

Industrial policy is a strategy for the sovereign development of the entire economic complex, associated with property relations. And they are different in Russia and Belarus.

Just as the formula of the Union State was at one time a cover for the deal of the Russian oligarchic authorities to ensure the transit of raw materials to the West, so now talks about a single industrial policy cover up a difficult state of affairs: if Belarus still retains some sovereignty, then Russia has completely fallen into the paradigm of peripheral dependence on the economy West.

“SP”: – There are known disputes around MAZ, which produces chassis for Russian missile systems, production of potash fertilizers, and other tasty morsels of the Belarusian economy. How can they be solved now?

– It’s not Russia’s business to get involved in Belarusian affairs and try to seize enterprises. It is clear that here the Russian corporate interest is to “rip apart” the neighbor’s economy. And the fact that Minsk is trying to protect it is absolutely correct. Belarus should be extremely careful about admitting Russian oligarchic structures to itself. It’s one thing for a military-industrial complex or a state corporation, where there is an element of politics, another thing is private business, which lobbies its interests through the Russian government. His appetites must be tempered.

The gas aspect of the agreements commented on Stanislav Mitrakhovich, leading expert of the National Energy Security Fund

The decision to keep the gas price at the same level is very beneficial for Belarus. Although before the protests in Minsk, Lukashenka wanted Moscow to lower the price, since the price was low in Europe. But a lot has changed since then. Until December 2023, when the document on the single gas market of Russia and Belarus is to be signed, a lot can also change.

“SP”: What could be a unified gas market?

– We had arguments about this. The Belarusian side was constantly talking about the price. They say that the price of gas in Belarus should be the same as in the Smolensk region. But the Russian side objected, since the price of gas in different regions of the Russian Federation is different and depends on geography and other factors. The same Smolensk region is subsidized for gas. But Belarus is not part of Russia. And there was no success in integration until the last moment either. There was no single currency, no single tax and civil legislation. So why on earth should we have the same price?

A single market is when producers and consumers can find each other without restrictions. For example, in Moscow, anyone can buy Belarusian sour cream, but Gazprom cannot sell gas directly to a Belarusian consumer; it must sell it to the state intermediary, Beltopgaz, which will then make its own markup for consumers. When Gazprom starts selling gas directly (perhaps Rosneft will eventually be able to do this too – it asks for access to the pipeline and NOVATEK), then a single market will emerge.

The political side of the issue was expressed by Deputy Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute Yuri Baranchik

– Perhaps the agreements between Russia and Belarus will open a new stage in the existence of the Union State. It took them three years, but by historical standards, this is not much. This is a major achievement of the presidents of the two countries. The forthcoming rapprochement, if implemented, will approach the level of EU integration. Tax policy, credit policy … The military rapprochement looks serious. Combat training centers have opened in Belarus. Since yesterday, S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems have been on duty in Grodno and Baranovichi.

We saw how the West tried to destabilize the situation in Belarus for a year. Many wondered why Russia is interceding. The answer is simple: this is our territory of influence. We have to define what happens here. The Belarusian authorities may have internal problems, contradictions on the issue of development with other groups of the population, nevertheless, they are our ally. The citizens of Belarus should themselves determine the vector of their development. And Russia simply provided assistance, preventing Western politicians from making this choice for the Belarusian people.

“SP”: Lukashenko called the economic agreements a “bulldozer” for development in the CIS …

– As the processes in the CSTO and the EAEU show, they still need a political superstructure. Like the European Union. The integration of Europe began with the union of coal and steel, and eventually culminated in a political superstructure. And now the EU makes many political decisions concerning its internal life.

Perhaps the Union State of Russia and Belarus will become the prototype of such a superstructure. Nothing wrong with that. After all, countries make their choice voluntarily and delegate part of their economic sovereignty to common structures within the EAEU. This means that we can think about a more important part – the political one. New challenges, in Asia, for example, are pushing for this.

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