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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oil wars with Russia, Customs Union agreements, Visa Prices, Economics, Ukrainian elections, Christmas Tsars; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #477

    Belarus’ President ratifies package of Customs Union agreements

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has signed the bills on ratifying the package of 13 international agreements that make up the legal base of the Customs Union within the EurAsEC, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    In particular, the Belarusian President has signed the bills on ratifying the protocol on terms and application of tariff duties different from the unified customs tariffs in exclusive cases. The protocol is aimed at the common foreign trading policy of the state members of the Customs Union. In addition, Alexander Lukashenko has signed the protocol on tariff preferences and the protocol on unified system of the Customs Union tariff preferences.

    Alexander Lukashenko has signed the bill on ratifying the agreement on Secretariat of the Customs Union Commission and the protocol on exchange of information between the customs authorities of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

    The President of Belarus has also signed the bill on ratifying the agreement on terms and application of tariff quotas. The agreement provides the preferences on the import of agricultural goods.

    Apart from that, Alexander Lukashenko has signed the bills on ratifying the agreements regulating the customs legal relationships between the Customs Union members. The agreements are aimed at the approximation of the national customs legislatures of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. These documents include the agreements on types of customs procedures and regimes, declaration of goods and their customs values, calculation and payment of customs duties, calculation and payment of customs charges, customs clearance and control, rules of establishing the origin of goods that are exported from developing and least developed countries, and order of the declaration of goods.

    Belarus veterans to get medal on Great Patriotic War victory anniversary

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has signed a decree to approve the procedure for awarding jubilee medals timed to the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

    The medal has been instituted following the CIS Heads of State Council resolution on the uniform jubilee medal to mark the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. The resolution was adopted on 10 October 2008.

    The jubilee medals will be awarded to Great Patriotic War veterans, former prisoners of concentration camps, prisons, ghettos, other imprisonment facilities that the Nazi and their allies created during World War Two, members of public associations of veterans. The medal will be also awarded to the Belarusian military, state officials and other persons who have made a considerable contribution to the heroic and patriotic upbringing of Belarus citizens, to immortalization of the fallen, to organizing jubilee events dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Victory.

    Winners of President’s Spiritual Revival Award 2009 announced

    On 5 January, President Alexander Lukashenko signed a Decree on decorating a number of distinguished Belarusians with the Spiritual Revival Awards of the President of the Republic of Belarus, BelTa learnt from the press service.

    The awards went to individuals and teams of professionals in recognition of their active work in the humanitarian sphere which contributed to the preservation and promotion of Belarusian cultural heritage, cultivation of the love of Motherland in young Belarusians, promoting spiritual values and cultural and moral traditions, altruism, charity and mercy.

    The awards were given to Archbishop Aristarchus of Gomel and Zhlobin for his great personal contribution to the revival and preservation of spiritual, historical and cultural heritage of the Belarusian people; to the authors and crew of the TV news service of the National State TV and Radio Company of Belarus for creating the documentary series "The Belarusian Land"; to the staff of the Hospice palliative treatment hospital for helping severely ill people; to the staff of the publishing house of the Belarusian Exarchate for publishing a facsimile edition of the Gospel of Slutsk; to Vladimir Katsuro, athletics coach at the Gomel sports school "Leader" for his achievements in social rehabilitation of physically disabled people.

    The signing of the Decree shows the attention paid by the state to national culture and charity efforts, supporting the individuals and teams that contribute through their work to the spiritual foundations of the Belarusian society, the presidential press service noted.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Consular fees for Belarusian visas unified

    From: BelTA
    The approach took into consideration primarily interests of Belarus citizens, whose traveling terms abroad should be adequate to those Belarus offers to foreigners
    Consular fees for all services provided by Belarusian diplomatic missions, including the issuance of consular fees, have been unified, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA.

    The source stressed that Belarus’ visa policy is based on the principle of parity. Entry procedures for citizens of most countries are adequate to the entry procedures that Belarusians have to follow to enter those countries.

    In practice every Belarusian diplomatic mission used to have to work out its own consular fees. A document was brought about to unify the different fees owing to, in particular, recent changes in Belarus’ domestic laws, primarily, taxation changes.

    Over the last few years the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Ministry and other interested government agencies have been working to optimize consular fees.

    The adoption of the Special Part of Belarus’ Tax Code allowed unifying the consular fees for all the services provided by Belarus’ diplomatic missions abroad.

    The approach took into consideration primarily interests of Belarus citizens, whose traveling terms abroad should be adequate to those Belarus offers to foreigners.

    Thus, consular fees for Belarus’ single-entry short-term visas are now set at €60, fees for multiple-entry long-term visas – €150, fees for groups (five people and more), including tourists, stand at €10 per person. To compare, Belarusians pay €60 for Schengen visas.

    Consular fees for issuing visas to UK and USA citizens are equal to those paid by Belarus citizens: $78 and $100 for transit visas (without limiting the number of entries), $114 and $131 for short-term visas (without limiting the number of entries), $366 and $350 for long-term visas.

    Parity-based consular fees are paid by citizens of Hungary, Iran, China, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czechia and Turkmenistan.

    Visas for Serbia citizens (for 30 days and over) and Japan citizens are free in line with the effective international conventions that Belarus has signed.

    Consular fees for citizens of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia stand at €25 for single-entry short-term visas and €60 for multiple-entry short-term visas following Belarus’ unilateral decision to reduce the prices.

    Thus, in most cases consular fees for issuing Belarusian visas have not been changed.

    Speaking about issuing visas at the national airport Minsk, the source said that the fees there have indeed been raised. The practice of placing a full-scale office to issue visas at airports is extremely rare. For instance, it is not a custom in most leading nations and in Schengen zone countries. In some countries one can get short-term (under 5 days) stay permits there while in other countries only tourist visas are available. The visa office at the Minsk airport is supposed to provide visas to citizens of the countries where Belarus’ diplomatic missions and consular missions are non-existent. At the airport one can get all kinds of visas within half an hour. It is a costly practice that affects the price of visas in the end.

    The Foreign Ministry commented on tourism export’s dependence on visa prices. In 2008 Belarus issued 463,000 visas, including around 24,000 visas to foreign tourists, or 5.3% of the total. In 2008 the number of tourist visas was halved in comparison with 2007 (52,000 or 11% of the total) while the consular fees stayed the same.

    Thus, the Foreign Ministry dismissed allegations of some Belarusian travel agencies that say that the new visa fees, which were enforced on 1 January 2010, threaten the development of the Western direction of Belarus’ tourism export.

    The Ministry encouraged Belarusian travel agencies to work with Belarusian consular missions abroad to get single-entry group visas for foreigners at €10 per person. Visa applications can be mailed, which can come in handy if applicants reside far from Belarusian consular institutions or in a country where there are no consular missions of Belarus.

    Minsk Bakery No. 4 sends first consignment of kosher bread to Moscow

    From: BelTA
    Minsk Bakery No.4 has sent the first consignment of kosher bread and waffles to Moscow, BelTA learnt from director of the bakery Vladimir Talaiko.

    Minsk Bakery No.4 was the first among Belarusian bakeries to have started making kosher products. All goods are made with the consent of the rabbis. “We got the certificate to make such products from the Moscow association ‘Kosher R’. On the basis of the certificate and the agreement on inspection of products for the compliance with the Judaism standards, we can make five types of bakery goods and three types of waffles,” Vladimir Talajko said.

    All kosher are marked with the ‘K’ label. The manufacture of kosher products is a joint project with the Belarusian Union of Jewry. The idea to produce kosher food was initiated by Bakery No. 4. “The products are export-oriented and are also supplied to the Minsk stores. There are plans to deliver the products to Israel,” Vladimir Talaiko added.

    Founded in 1956, the company produces nearly 80 types of bakery products, 80 varieties of waffles, 15 types of diabetic and dietetic food, 15 sorts of biscuits, gingerbread, etc. The company employs about 500 people.

    Salaries in Belarus to average $500 by late 2010

    From: BelTA
    Average salaries in Belarus are supposed to total an equivalent of $500, Deputy Labor and Social Protection Minister Valentina Koroleva told a press conference on 5 January.

    The Ministry is currently busy calculating variants, schemes, charts to raise the first rate base pay in order to reach the forecasted figure. Valentina Koroleva stressed that the IMF has made no requirements for the Ministry to raise public sector salaries this year.

    BelTA reported earlier that in line with Belarus’ social and economic development program for 2006-2010 real salaries are supposed to grow by 52-58% within the five-year term. Raising the nominal salaries up to an equivalent of $500 will achieve the targeted growth of real salaries.

    Valentina Koroleva stressed that the social policy of the Belarusian government focuses on raising incomes of individuals, overcoming poverty, and ensuring effective employment.

    No plans to raise pension age in Belarus

    There are no plans to raise the retirement age in Belarus, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Protection of Belarus Valentina Koroleva told a press conference on 5 January.

    She added that no changes will be introduced for working pensioners.

    Valentina Koroleva reminded that in line with Decree No 641, beginning 1 January 2010 retirement pensions will be recalculated based on the average salary in Q3 2009. As a result in January 2010 the average retirement pensions of all kinds rose approximately by 9% to reach Br468,000. About Br96.5 billion a month will be additionally needed for these purposes. The social security fund finances all the pension payments on time and to the full extent. Those pensioners who were scheduled to receive pensions in the first days of January received the payments in the last days of December.

    Negotiations continue to release Belarusian IL-76 crew member on bail

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry continues keeping an eye on the situation around a Belarusian citizen, who is a member of the crew of an IL-76 cargo plane that has been detained in Bangkok with illegal cargo on board, spokesperson of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov told BelTA.

    “We are in tight cooperation with Kazakhstan diplomats. Together we continue taking all the measures enabled by international laws,” said the source. Andrei Popov reminded that Belarus had repeatedly asked Thailand to soften the pre-trial restrictions for the Belarusian citizen. In particular, the possibility of releasing the Belarusian on bail was discussed.

    According to mass media reports, the criminal court of Thailand has extended the detention period for the crew for another 12 days for the third time. The court said more time was needed to question several witnesses and check passports of the suspects. The court refused to release the IL-76 crew on bail.

    Registered in Georgia, the IL-76 cargo plane with almost 40 tonnes of armaments on board was detained in Bangkok on 11 December where it landed for refueling. The crew includes four Kazakhstan citizens and one Belarusian, who is the flight engineer. According to Thai laws the crew faces a lifetime imprisonment. They can be also charged with illegal keeping of explosives, with the punishment varying from two years in prison to death sentence. The crew claim that they knew nothing about the cargo and were told they were transporting oil well drilling equipment.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus’ Christmas Tsars rite to go on screen

    From: BelTA
    A movie will be made about the unique Belarusian rite ‘Christmas Tsars’, BelTA learnt from Alla Stashkevich, head of the IT in socio-cultural activity department of the institute for enhancement of qualifications of Belarusian State University of Culture and Art, Belarus’ expert at the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

    After this festive event traditionally held in the village of Semezhevo (the Kopyl region, the Minsk oblast) was inscribed to the World List of the Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, its popularity has considerably grown both in Belarus and abroad. The last record with the rite dates back to 1997. A lot has changed since then. A decision has been taken to re-shoot this ritual event.

    Alla Stashkevich noted that the Christmas Tsars rite dates back to the 18th century. Typical Belarusian New Year celebrations take place according to the ‘old’ Julian style calendar and are combined with distinctive local performing arts. The ceremony is celebrated only in the village of Semezhevo.

    About 500 men participate annually in the event, of which seven are chosen to play the roles of ‘Kalyady Tsars’ in the national historical-religious drama ’Tsar Maximilian’.

    Additional comic characters of the dzed (old man) and baba (old lady), played by a young girl and boy respectively, interact with the audience. During the drama, ‘tsars’ visit the local houses of unmarried girls to give comic performances and receive good wishes and awards. The procession continues into the night, lit by torchlight.

    This year the Kopyl region will celebrate the New Year’s Eve (on the 14 January night) on a big scale, BelTA learnt from the culture department of the Kopyl regional executive committee. The region is getting ready to welcome officials of the Culture Ministry of Belarus and ethnography and folklore experts. Famous journalist from Japan Norito Kunisu will travel to Belarus to see the Tsars procession.

    The Christmas Tsars rite is an intangible historical and cultural value. The rite is included in the state list of historical and cultural values of the Republic of Belarus, and the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. It is the only Belarusian rite that has been included in the list so far. A special UNESCO fund is supposed to grant $25,000 to carry out the measures for preservation of the rite and its popularization.

    Apart from the Christmas Tsars, the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage includes Qiang New Year festival; the designs and building of traditional wooden arch bridges, both from China; the Cantu in paghjella, a secular male singing tradition from Corsica; Latvia’s Suiti (a small Catholic community) customs and traditions, from singing to costumes and wedding practices; the Biyelgee traditional folk dance in Mongolia; the Ca tru, a complex form of sung poetry practised in the north of Vietnam, using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms; the Sanke mon, a collective fishing rite commemorating the founding of the San town in Mali; the traditions and practices associated to the Kayas in the sacred forests of the Mijikenda, Kenya.

  • Economics...

    Minsk oblast implementing 14 large-scale investment projects

    From: BelTA
    The Minsk oblast is implementing 14 large-scale investment projects jointly with the Russian, Iranian, Lithuanian and Belgian investors, BelTA learnt from the economy department of the Minsk oblast executive committee.

    The projects are aimed at the construction of housing, transport and logistics centers, hypermarkets along the Minsk ring road. The Minsk region has launched the construction of a plant to produce detergents for the industrial and household purposes (the M-Standard Company and Cyprian investments – Br4.9 billion). The August-Bel company (Russia) is constructing a facility in the Pukhovichi region to produce crop-protecting agents (the amount of foreign investments is Br35.2 billion).

    Ten investment projects are carried out in the Minsk oblast in accordance with the Belarus logistics system development program through 2015. This is the construction of transport and logistics centers in the Minsk region (the Prilesye transport and logistics center, Italian investments - $150 million and the BLT-Logistic together with the investors from Great Britain, Germany and Sweden) and in the Volozhin region (BelVingesLogistic, Lithuanian investments - $23 million). Several more investment projects are to be launched in 2010.

    The investment policy of the Minsk oblast will center on further improvement of the investment climate, boosting demand for investment resources of juridical entities, the economy department of the Minsk oblast executive committee said. Preferences envisaged in Ordinance No 10 will help investors optimize the financing of the construction of manufacturing buildings, engineering infrastructure.

    Autonomous quotas applied in Belarus-EU trade in textile in 2010

    Starting from 1 January 2010, Belarus and the European Union have been using autonomous quotas for textile, BelTA learnt from the Belarus concern Bellegprom.

    According to Bellegprom, in view of the autonomous quotas there is no need to get an export license for the domestic textile. EU’s buyers will continue using the import licenses to sell the Belarusian textile.

    At present, the European Union quotes 21 types of Belarus’ textile goods. The reduced customs duties on the EU textile which were valid last year were cancelled on 1 January.

    Belarus-Ukraine trade down by 42.6% in January-November

    In January-November 2009 the trade between Belarus and Ukraine totaled $2,692.3 million, which accounts for 57.4% of the trade in the same period 2008, BelTA learnt from the trade and economy group of the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Kyiv.

    In January-November Belarusian export to Ukraine exceeded $1.5 billion (57%), import - $1.1 billion (58%). Belarus had a $392.9 million surplus in trade with Ukraine.

    The economic cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine had been vibrant, with the trade increasing from $705.6 million in 2003 to almost $5 billion in 2008. It was badly affected by the global financial crisis in 2009.

    Falling production of Ukraine’s large industrial companies, first of all, in the steel, chemical, engineering and construction industries was among those negative factors that affected the bilateral trade.

    Last year Ukraine imported over 2,000 Belarusian commodities including tractors, trucks, refrigerators and freezers, elevators, component parts for vehicles, oil products, tires, potash fertilizers, synthetic fiber, ceramics, wooden construction goods, polished glass, wallpaper, cooked meats, seafood, etc. Belarus mainly imported Ukrainian ready-made consumer goods of the engineering, petrochemical and construction industries, food.

    Gomelkhlebprom to export gingerbread to Canada

    Gomelkhlebprom plans to export a wide assortment of gingerbread to Canada in 2010, BelTA learnt from the company’s director general Natalia Veromeyeva.

    The two sides have signed a contract on the delivery of the first consignment of gingerbread. The assortment is expected to enlarge in the future.

    According to Natalia Veromeyeva, Gomel started exporting several varieties of bakery products to that country in 2007. In Canada these products are mainly bought by Belarusian nationals.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Tensions Flare in Russia-Belarus Pipeline Talks

    From: WSJ
    Premier Vladimir Putin, second from the right, visits the central control unit of Russia's power system in Moscow on Monday as an energy-price dispute between Russia and Belarus escalated.
    Belarus escalated an energy price dispute with Russia on Monday, raising concerns about midwinter disruptions in the flow through a pipeline system that supplies about 10% of the European Union's oil.

    The dispute focuses on the Soviet-era Druzhba system, the main route for Siberian petroleum to Europe. Russia began curbing supplies through the pipeline to Belarus's domestic market after a pricing deal between the two countries expired Dec. 31.

    On Monday, Russian officials said those deliveries had been resumed, but not before Belarus threatened to cut off electricity to Russia's westernmost region if the Russians insisted on imposing a new tax on the oil Belarus processes for export.

    Russia's top energy official, Igor Sechin, said European customers were unaffected by the dispute and that Russian crude was flowing normally through the pipeline. But he emphasized that Russia and Belarus had yet to clinch an agreement.

    Three years ago, Russia briefly cut oil exports to Europe through a Belarussian pipeline as the two countries quarreled over price. That, along with a January 2009 natural-gas cutoff to Europe caused by disputes with Ukraine, raised doubts in Europe about Russia's dependability as a top energy supplier.

    The oil dispute poses less of a threat to European countries, which have stockpiles in place and options, such as sea shipments, for receiving new crude.

    But Russia's new position could prove costly for Belarus, a former Soviet republic that has counted Moscow as its top ally.

    The majority of the Druzhba pipeline's crude -- about 37 million tons annually -- goes through Belarus to refineries in Poland and eastern Germany, which depend on the pipeline for nearly all of their crude. Belarus keeps and refines an additional 21.5 million tons of crude for itself and European customers, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

    Until now, Moscow has taxed Belarus at about one-third its rate for international customers for the crude Belarus refines domestically. Belarus has used about eight million tons of the refined oil domestically each year and exported the rest at a hefty profit.

    Now Russia is demanding that Belarus pay full customs duties on the refined oil it doesn't consume domestically, in line with a broader policy of bringing market pricing for its energy supplies. The new tax could cost Belarus an estimated $5 billion this year, more than 10% of its gross domestic product, Belarussian experts told the Associated Press.

    On Monday, Belarus upped the ante by threatening to interrupt electricity transfers to Russia's Kaliningrad region, a Baltic Sea enclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. A statement issued by Belarus's Belenergo energy company said the two countries lacked an agreement governing those transfers in 2010.

    A spokesman for Inter RAO UES, the Russian operator of power exports and imports, said Belarus was trying to "blackmail Russia through the media."

    Relations between the former Soviet neighbors have been increasingly strained by financial disputes. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has accused Russia of bullying his country of 10 million people and trying to acquire some key industrial assets.

    Belarus has limited leverage to confront Moscow over Druzhba, which means friendship. Russia is building a second phase of the Baltic Pipeline System, scheduled to be completed in 2012, which would route oil around Belarus to Europe via the Baltic Sea.

    "This is Belarus's last opportunity to strike a bargain before that pipeline gets completed," says Matthew Sagers, a Eurasia specialist at Cambridge Energy. "But Russia holds all the cards."

    Oil prices rose Monday to $81 a barrel, the highest in more than two months, partly because of the Russia-Belarus dispute.

    Expert on Russian-Ukrainian disputes over fees for oil

    From: Itar-Tass
    Russia has expressed readiness to continue subsidizing the Belarussian economy by providing 6.3 million tons of crude for Belarus, an expert said Saturday.

    In financial terms, this means a benefit of $ 1.8 billion a year, he said.

    “What phase are the talks in now?” he said. “To put it simply, Russia’ s proposal says, well, dear Belarussian friends, please accept a present in the form of 6.3 million tons of oil that’s necessary for your country’s domestic consumption.”

    “As far as I can see, this option is effective today,” the expert said.

    “And this is roughly what the Belarussians say in response: give us 30 million tons duty-free or we’ll raise the transit fee to $ 45 per ton /this fee stands at $ 3.9 per ton at the moment under effective agreements – Itar-Tass/ and keep up the uncompetitive conditions for the Belarussian oil refineries, on the one hand, and the Russian refineries, on the other,” he said.

    "The Russian proposal doesn't meet the interests of the Belarusian side in full, and it's quite understandable why," the expert said.

    "A multitude of intermediaries is operating on the Belarusian market and it's also understandable that they are not independent, as Belarus is a country where everything in the sphere of fuels and energy is strictly controlled by the state leadership," he said.

    Deputy Prime Minister Syamashka heads for Moscow for more oil supply talks

    From: Navany
    Uladzimir Syamashka, Belarus’ deputy prime minister
    Uladzimir Syamashka, Belarus’ deputy prime minister, was expected to head for Moscow on Friday for another round of talks on oil deliveries with Russian government officials.

    As Alyaksandr Tsimashenka, spokesman for the Belarusian prime minister, told BelaPAN, the talks are to resume on January 9.

    Mr. Syamashka was to travel to the Russian capital in company with officials representing a number of ministries and government agencies, according to Mr. Tsimashenka. The delegation has the authority to sign an agreement with the Russian government on crude oil deliveries, he stressed.

    “The position of the Belarusian side is still based on the need for reaching mutually acceptable agreements in the framework of the existing legal framework of Belarusian-Russian relations,” Mr. Tsimashenka said.

    Talks held by Belarusian and Russian government officials on the subject in December and earlier this month yielded no agreement.

    Under an interstate agreement that was signed on January 12, 2007 and expired on December 31, 2009, crude oil exported to Belarus was subject to reduced export duty, which was 35.6 percent of the rate applied to oil exports to other countries.

    Late last year Russia offered to supply up to six million tons of oil to Belarus free of duty in 2010 for its domestic consumption. An agreement was reached for Belarus to receive a total of 21.5 million tons of oil in 2010 and Moscow wanted the amount to be supplied in excess of the six million tons be subject to the full duty rate, warning that if a new agreement on the terms of oil deliveries failed to be signed, all oil supplied to Belarus would be subject to the full duty rate starting January 1.

    Minsk reportedly demanded that all Russian oil to be supplied to Belarus be exported duty-free, explaining that this would meet the spirit of agreements recently reached by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia to form a customs union.

    Igor Sechin, Russia's deputy prime minister, confirmed earlier this week that crude oil had not been supplied to Belarus in the first two days of January because of the dispute.

    Belarus’ Oil Sector: A Target of Opportunity for Moscow

    From: Georgian Daily
    Russia’s threat to abolish its oil subsidies to Belarus aim not only to punish Minsk for its recent rapprochement with the European Union, but also to put the oil processing and oil transit in Belarus under the control of Russian companies (EDM, January 5).

    The role of Belarus with regard to oil transit for Europe is somewhat similar to Ukraine’s role for gas transit. Each country provides transit service for the bulk of Russian oil and gas, respectively, by pipelines to Europe. In both cases, the Kremlin seeks to control the transit routes so as to gain additional leverage on European consumer countries.

    Russia has broken into Ukraine’s internal gas transportation system and market, thanks to the presumably pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko in 2006; and it has used that position to drive Naftohaz Ukrainy into insolvency, opening the way for a Gazprom move on Ukraine’s transit pipelines. In Belarus, however, the presumably Russia-oriented president Alyaksandr Lukashenka has all along resisted Russian control of the oil processing plants and transit pipelines. The Kremlin is arm-twisting Belarus by shifting oil transit volumes into the Baltic Pipelines Sytem (BPS), which circumvents Belarus to reach Russian Baltic ports for tanker transportation to Europe. Similarly, Russia threatens to bypass Ukraine’s gas transit system by laying pipelines on the seabed of the Baltic and Black seas. Moscow uses the threat of circumvention to pressure Belarus and Ukraine into sharing control of their oil and gas sectors, respectively, with Russian companies. In that eventuality, Russia would presumably maintain the supply and transit flows by overland pipelines through Belarus and Ukraine.

    While the threat of bypassing Ukraine through the Baltic and Black Sea is hardly credible, the circumvention of Belarus is credible and indeed in progress through BPS Phase One, which is already operational, and the incipient construction of BPS Phase Two. The pressure is now growing through the threat of abolishing oil subsidies to Belarus, following Minsk’s attempts to improve its relations with the EU.

    Refineries and transit pipelines in Belarus are all under the jurisdiction of the state-owned holding BelNaftaKhim. This includes: the Belarus section of the Druzhba transit pipeline for Russian oil to Europe (operated by BelNaftaKhim’s subsidiary HomelTransNafta), the Mozyr and Navapolatsk refineries, the Palimir petrochemical plant (associated with the Navapolatsk refinery), and some smaller assets (Interfax, January 1–7).

    Belarus provides transit service for more that 70 million tons of Russian oil per year to Europe (not including the oil supplies to Belarus itself) through the Belarus Druzhba pipeline. This staggering quantity takes two directions from Belarus territory: one westward into Poland and Germany, and the other one southward via Ukraine into Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary (with pipeline links to each country). All these countries critically depend on Russian oil supplies through Belarus and Ukraine.

    Originating at Unecha on the Russia-Belarus border, the Belarus Druzhba pipeline bifurcates at Mozyr. The westward branch enters Poland at Adamova/Adamowo and continues across that country to Germany. The southward branch enters Ukraine at Brody and continues –as the Ukrainian section of the Druzhba pipeline– toward Central Europe. The southward branch links up at Brody with the Odessa-Brody pipeline, which is being reverse-used for Russian oil to the Black Sea.

    A third, northward branch is also a part of the Belarus Druzba transit pipeline. It runs in two spurs to Latvia and Lithuania, respectively, and used to deliver 16 million tons per year in the aggregate to those two Baltic States. Russia, however, stopped oil deliveries by pipeline to Latvia and Lithuania in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Thus, the Belarus Druzhba’s northern branch is no longer operating at all. Moscow, using its monopoly as oil supplier, hoped to strangle Latvia’s Ventspils export terminal and Lithuania’s Mazeikiai refinery and acquire them on the cheap. The goal has not been accomplished but it remains on the agenda. It also serves as a reference paradigm for other countries where Russia is a monopoly supplier to local refineries, including Belarus.

    BelNaftaKhim’s Mozyr and Navapolatsk refineries operate exclusively on Russian oil. Each of them processes 10.5 million tons of crude oil per year, an unusually large volume that has remained constant in recent years. Russian oil companies, chronically deficient in refining capacities at home, use Belarus as a strategic base for their refining operations. Russia delivers some 21 million tons of crude oil to Belarus annually in recent years (21.5 million tons in 2009), including 5 to 6 million tons to meet Belarus’ domestic requirements for petroleum products and another 16 million tons to be refined for exporting the products (RIA Novosti, January 4).

    Belarus has included the Mozyr and Navapolatsk refineries in the program for privatization of state property since 2008. However, Minsk is bargaining hard over the terms of “privatization” by Russian state-controlled companies or oligarchic entities. As part of its resistance, Belarus supports the goal of using Ukraine’s Odessa-Brody pipeline in the originally planned direction, south-north, for Caspian oil supplies (Valerya Kastyugava, “Prospects of Belarus’ Participation in the Odessa-Brody Pipeline’s Operation,” BISS, 2008). By the same token, Belarus is interested in reactivating the northern pipeline connection to the Baltic States. Since Russia forced its closure, Minsk considers the option of using that line in reverse, so as to receive non-Russian oil via Lithuanian or Latvian maritime terminals.

  • From the Opposition...

    Belarusian visa has gone up to 180 Euro

    From: Charter '97
    Since the New Year Belarusian visa costs for foreigners have risen; in the first place, costs for those who receive visas in airports.

    The consular department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry explained to Radio Svaboda costs increase for Belarusian visas by coming into force of additions to the Tax Code of Belarus.

    Besides, since the beginning of the year visa costs are to be paid in Euros, not in dollars. Types of visas have been changed too. There are three types of visas: transit, short-term and long-term. There is no division into tourist and business visas.

    As the Consular department in the National airport Minsk explained, is a potential tourist from the European Union who wanted to come to Belarus earlier could receive a one-time short-term visa for 60 dollars there, now it costs 180 Euro. Long-term visas for citizens of the EU and the US cost more than 200 Euro.

    “They have a choice – to take a visa in the Embassy of Belarus in their country for 60 Euro, or in the airport at 180 Euro,” the Consular department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said. Costs of visa services have changed as well, but not so radically.

    Travel companies representatives say that foreigners start to give up on trips to Belarus, as its visas are among the most expensive ones in the world.

    BCD leaders sue Belarusian State TV and Radio Company

    From: Viasna
    On 6 January the preliminary sitting on the lawsuit of the co-chairmen of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Vital Rymasheuski and Pavel Seviarynets against the Belarusian TV and Radio Company took place at the Pershamaiski district court of Minsk. The lawsuit is considered by Judge Volha Baham’ia.

    Bear in mind that on 27-28 September in the Panorama program there was demonstrated a film that the plaintiffs considered as insulting to their honor and dignity. The essence of the film is that the BCD is allegedly a sectarian organization and the convictions of its organizing committee are quite far from Christian values.

    The plaintiffs ask the court to demand from the Belarusian State TV and Radio Company to officially refute this information, pay 50 mlm rubles in moral damages to all of them and also give them ether time for informing the population of Belarus about the activities of the organizing committee of the BCD and the aims and tasks of the party.

    The representatives of the defendant, the head of the juridical service of the Belarusian State TV and Radio Company Ruslan Zhukovich, the leading legal adviser Volha Dubrouskaya and the political observer Andrei Kryvasheyeu stated that they considered the lawsuit completely groundless.

  • Russia...

    Orange sunset as Ukraine poll heralds turn to Russia

    From: Guardian
    Five years ago, Ukraine's Orange Revolution was hailed as a new start for a country that had begun to look west towards the European Union and Nato. But as voters prepare to go to the polls next Sunday in the first presidential election since they cast out the country's Soviet-era leadership, Europe's most famous colour-coded reform movement seems to have run out of steam.

    Both of the front-running candidates in the poll have indicated that firmer ties with Russia, whether for pragmatic or ideological reasons, will be a priority. The poll will thus ring the death knell for a pro-western revolution that degenerated into a morass of political infighting, compounded by economic crisis.

    Leading the polls is Viktor Yanukovych, a former prime minister whose initial victory as the Russia-backed candidate in 2004 sparked allegations of a rigged vote. His only serious rival is Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister and Moscow's new favoured candidate. President Viktor Yushchenko, hero of the Orange Revolution, now has an approval rating below 3%. Last week he accused Yanukovych and Tymoshenko of comprising a "single Kremlin coalition", such was their joint desire for warmer relations with Moscow.

    Yanukovych is expected to garner 33.3% of the vote, according to a mid-December opinion poll by Ukraine's R&B Group, with Tymoshenko scoring 16.6%. A collection of 16 candidates, including Yushchenko, are expected to split 40% of voters between them, while more than 10% of the electorate remain undecided. A second round between the two frontrunners is widely expected – it is scheduled for 7 February – with Yanukovych likely to be in pole position.

    Whether Yanukovych or Tymoshenko wins, the goal of Nato membership, still aspired to by Yushchenko, is almost certain to be abandoned. Officials close to the Kremlin have said that Nato membership for Ukraine and Georgia was seen as an "existential threat" to Russia.

    Yanukovych last week repeated his long-held stance that he would take Ukraine off the path to Nato membership. "Ukraine was and will be a non-aligned nation, as it is now," he told Ukraine's Komsomolskaya Pravda.

    While he also said he would keep the country out of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Moscow-led defence grouping, he would push to join the economic union being formed by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia has lately favoured economic integration, and pushed for the rouble to become a regional reserve currency, as a means of spreading its influence.

    Russia has not openly backed a candidate, unlike in 2004 when it threw all its weight behind Yanukovych. "They don't want to be in a situation like 2004, where they put all their eggs in one basket and lost Ukraine for some years," said Alexander Rahr, head of the Russia/Eurasia programme at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

    Yanukovych is understood to have angered Moscow by supporting Ukraine's attempt to join the EU. But Tymoshenko has become the unexpected hero of the Kremlin, after tempering the anti-Russian stance that was a hallmark of her 2004 campaign and early premiership. While remaining avowedly pro-EU, she has built a pragmatic alliance with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister. The two very publicly ended the drawn-out gas dispute between the two countries last winter and were credited with avoiding a repeat this year. Tymoshenko now calls the Orange Revolution "a revolution of lost opportunities".

    The near annual gas dispute first erupted after the inauguration of the Yushchenko government, when Russia suddenly hiked gas prices on the eve of 2005, eager to stop subsidising a neighbour that was no longer a de facto vassal state. Political punishment came in the form of increasingly aggressive rhetoric over the status of Crimea, an autonomous region on Ukraine's Black Sea coast that used to form part of Russia. That rhetoric is taken seriously after the Russian-Georgian war over South Ossetia in summer 2008.

    Yushchenko – who is sixth in the vote with an expected 3.8% – has lost his traditional support in the country's western regions to Tymoshenko and lesser-known candidates. Yanukovych has retained his popularity in the Russian-speaking east and south.

    In Ukraine the words of the day on Russia are "pragmatism" and "balance". "Both [Yanukovych and Tymoshenko] will find a balance of interests between Russia and the west," said Volodymyr Fesenko, of the Kiev-based Penta Centre for Applied Political Studies.

    The election comes as Ukraine wallows in a financial crisis that saw the economy shrink by 15% last year. The country is due to repay £12.5bn of foreign, mainly corporate, debt this year, and the hryvnia is down 50% since the crisis began. Kiev became one of the few governments to appeal to the International Monetary Fund for emergency aid, taking more than £10bn in loans. The IMF has frozen delivery of some tranches, citing a lack of internal reforms.

    "The enthusiasm of the west vanished very quickly after 2004," notes Rahr. "We don't know what to do with Ukraine. We know what we don't want – we don't want Ukraine to become part of Russia again. But that's not enough, and that's our strategy."

    Suicide bombing in Russia's Dagestan kills 5 police officers

    From: LA Times
    A security camera at a police headquarters in the Russian republic of Dagestan shows a police vehicle, left, as it prepares to ram a suicide bomber in a small SUV. The police officers were being hailed as heroes.
    A suicide bomber targeted a traffic police headquarters in the restive Russian republic of Dagestan on Wednesday, killing five officers and injuring 19 more.

    As a small, Russian-made SUV careened toward the building about 8 a.m., a team of police rammed their vehicle into the bomber's. The explosives went off on impact, killing all the police officers in the truck but preventing the bomber from reaching his target.

    The death toll would have been much higher had the officers not intervened, officials in Dagestan said. The men were being hailed as heroes.

    "He was stopped by a special operations group at the last minute," an unnamed spokesman told Interfax news agency.

    "The measures taken by these policemen stopped the terrorist from reaching the site where other police officers prepared for duty."

    The bomber struck just as 50 traffic police officers were lining up at the headquarters for a procession. In choice of target and timing, the attack bore a marked resemblance to last summer's bombing of a police headquarters in nearby Ingushetia, another Russian republic in the North Caucasus racked by insurgent violence. That attack killed at least 24 people.

    "They managed to prevent a terrorist attack with a higher death toll at the cost of their own lives," the spokesman said.

    Dagestan, a mountainous republic tucked on the western edge of the Caspian Sea, is an ethnically diverse and oil-rich region that has been rent by tensions from rising Islamism and clan power struggles.

    Wednesday's explosion shattered windows and damaged roofs for more than a mile around. Investigators poring over the bomb crater concluded that the assailant had been carrying artillery shells equivalent to more than 200 pounds of TNT.

    "When I woke up, 'Bam! Bam!' " neighbor Patimat Aliyeva told Russia's Channel One television, imitating the sound of the blast. "I couldn't find my children. They were screaming, 'Mama.' But I didn't see them because the house is filled with dust and there's glass under my feet."

    Mukhu Aliyev, the president of the small republic, ordered budget funds set aside to compensate the families of the slain police officers. He also ordered the purchase of 15 new police vehicles.

    Escalating bloodshed has made the Caucasus region the soft underbelly of Moscow's efforts to portray Russia as a stable, centrally controlled hub of investment and tranquillity. Russian officials have threatened and fired officials and pledged to do better in response to the string of attacks -- but the bloodshed keeps coming.

    A flare of disappearances and killings in Chechnya, which suffered through two wars between 1994 and the early 2000s, and a swelling Islamist rebellion and raging clan warfare in Ingushetia and Dagestan all threaten to destabilize Russia.

    The threat appeared particularly acute in November, when a bomb derailed a train on a popular route running between Moscow and St. Petersburg, killing 26 people and raising the possibility that violence would spill deep into the heart of Russia.

    Turkmenistan resumes gas supplies to Russia

    From: AFP
    Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov
    Turkmenistan resumed gas supplies to Russia on Saturday, Russian state energy giant Gazprom said, after a nine-month break that raised questions about Moscow's influence in the energy-rich state.

    "This morning gas starts to flow from Turkmenistan. All outstanding issues regarding supplies have been resolved," Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said in an interview with the Echo of Moscow radio.

    A pipeline rupture in April virtually halted Turkmen natural gas supplies to Russia, slashing its income from gas exports.

    The ex-Soviet state -- which lost around one billion dollars a month amid the disruption -- had angrily blamed Moscow for causing the burst by cutting its gas imports, provoking a pressure build-up, as demand dropped off from end clients in Europe.

    Ties with Russia then soured, with Turkmenistan seeking to develop new gas markets in China and Iran and lessen its dependence on Russian imports.

    But on a visit to Ashgabat in December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the year was ending on a "high note" as Turkmenistan agreed to a new long-term gas agreement.

    The new deal provides for Russia's purchase of 30 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas per year -- a much lower supply than in recent years.

    Turkmenistan has unveiled to new pipelines in recent months, which will double its gas supplies to neighboring Iran and allow it to directly ship gas to energy-hungry China.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    A classic example of the pot defaming the kettle:
    Marcin Sobczyk: Poland Wakes Up to Harsh Ukrainian Business Climate

    From: WSJ
    Polish computer hardware distributor Action decided to pull out of Ukraine and sell shares in its unit there.

    Despite Action’s huge loss on the entire investment, analysts who cover this Warsaw-listed company offered a loud sigh of relief after the pullout as Ukrainian operations continued to generate losses from quarter to quarter without any promise of a better tomorrow.

    The company said it views the situation in Ukraine negatively, as declining gross domestic product, high inflation and unemployment mean the country’s economy will be depressed for many quarters ahead.

    Flashback to the early 1990s — some politicians, maybe listening to what Russia was saying or maybe just being useful idiots, were saying Poland was wrong in reorienting its own economy from Comecon to the West. Why go West if you have the vast markets of the East, they would say?

    Fortunately, Poland didn’t listen and now nearly 80% of its foreign trade is with other European Union countries, with more than 50% of the total with the euro zone.

    In the meantime, Russia has repeatedly tried to block Polish exports, and even the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which Polish politicians eagerly supported, has failed to change anything for Polish companies there.

    Keep in mind that many Polish executives who are still active now also have the experience of the communist regime and its crazy economic logic, and they somehow got by. But present-day Ukraine just beats them.

    A number of Polish companies that are covered by the financial media here have investment projects in Ukraine. This group includes or used to include radio broadcaster RMF FM, one of Poland’s largest banks PKO Bank Polski, media firm Agora and now South African-owned online communicator Gadu-Gadu, as well as a number of real-estate developers.

    And they all complain that business rules in Ukraine are unstable, employees disloyal, corruption out of control. Leszek Czarnecki, a Polish financial tycoon with, to put it mildly, a lot of experience with communist Poland, has recently said his decision to invest in Ukraine was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

    Contrary to what many in old-EU countries think, there is no common culture in Poland and Ukraine, and the two countries are increasingly diverging. For many Polish investors the experience of Ukraine is a true culture shock.

    So what does Ukraine do to address those problems? Nothing. Literally, nothing.

    Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference for Ukrainian journalists co-organized by the Polish Foreign Ministry. What surprised me most when I heard my Ukrainian colleagues was their obsession with politics — and their absolute disinterest with the economy.

    For any post-communist country, real integration with the west and real security guarantees begin when economic stakes are high for foreign investors — billions of dollars of investments and billions of profits.

    Instead, all I heard was: Will Yushchenko this, will Tymoshenko that. Will NATO accept us, will EU give us free travel. Will Poland advocate for us.

    If there’s no cash incentive, who cares, really?
  • Note: It is believed that this last sentence was recently nominated as the new national slogan for Poland...

    Nothing new here: Poland deadly for cyclists

    From: The News
    Poland is the most dangerous among EU states for cyclists, warns Gazeta Wyborcza. Statistics show that the number of fatal accidents involving cyclists in Poland is four times the average among EU countries.

    Biking in Poland is not a safe pleasure. Around five hundred cyclists are killed on Polish roads every year with another five thousand injured. Contrary to a common misperception, the majority of those victims were not those biking under the influence of alcohol or on improperly lit bikes but children and the elderly who were killed on new or newly modernized roads. Biking organisations indicate the behaviour of car drivers and unclear law among the reasons for such grim statistics.

    In the EU states some four cyclists are killed to every one million inhabitants, in Poland statistics point to 18 . The Polish Lower House will be debating on a project amending the road regulations in Poland. The project envisages among others special road passages only for bicycles and introducing right of way for bicycles in certain road situations. To raise the awareness that bicycles are part of the road traffic cyclists in Poland joined the Critical Mass a ride founded in 1992 in San Francisco held in some 300 cities around the world. They manifest their presence on the streets of Polish cities on the last Friday of the month, winds Gazeta Wyborcza.

    Audit reveals ‘financial irregularities’ at Poland’s public TV

    From: The News
    Poland’s Supreme Auditing Chamber has uncovered financial irregularities in the state-owned broadcaster TVP.

    The Prosecutor’s Office has been informed about possible offences related to the misuse of public funds.

    The Supreme Auditing Chamber (NIK) has checked the finances of TVP in the years 2007-2009, while it was managed by Bronislaw Wildstein, Andrzej Urbanski and Piotr Farfal. It turns out that the broadcaster spent 150 million zloty (36 million euro) incorrectly.

    Among the irregularities mentioned by NIK are costly reshuffles of managerial stuff. As many as 90 percent of personnel decisions were taken to the detriment of TVP. The Supreme Auditing Chamber reports that the worst situation occurred at the beginning of 2009, under the management of Piotr Farfal. Farfal, who had close ties with the Catholic-nationalistic League of Polish Families (LPR), dismissed over 26 managers (usually related to the Law and Justice party), which cost TVP over 2 million zloty (500,000 euro).

    Another irregularity was legal outsourcing, which cost the broadcaster 17.5 million zloty (4.3 million euro) and was unnecessary, in NIK’s opinion, because TVP has its own lawyers. One of the advocates employed by Farfal, also related to the LPR, managed to earn 54,000 zloty (13,000 euro) in only three months.

    NIK also reported irregularities on hiring advisors. Usually their duties were not defined but nevertheless they managed to earn from 5,000 to 20,000 zloty (1,500-5,000 euro), which cost TVP over 7 million zloty (2 million euro). Andrzej Urbanski employed as many as sixteen such advisors, Piotr Farfal – three and Bronislaw Wild stein – one.

    The Supreme Auditing Chamber wants the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate why suspended presidents, especially Andrzej Urbanski, used company cars, telephones and credit cards, which cost TVP almost 143,000 zloty (35,000 euro); and why they granted themselves high premiums although TVP’s budget deficit reached 200 million zloty (almost 50 million euro).

    Acting to the detriment of TVP may cost former presidents of the Polish broadcaster a fine or up to five years in prison.

  • Sport...

    West Ham United Closing In On Belarus International Sergey Kornilenko

    Sergey Kornilenko
    With limited resources at his disposal, West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola is believed to be turning his attention to capturing Zenit St Petersburg striker Sergey Kornilenko on loan according to the Daily Mail.

    Zola may have his hands tied during the January transfer window amid the club’s on-going financial struggles, but he's believed to be engineering a temporary move for the 26-year-old Belarus international.

    Kornilenko joined Russian side Zenit last summer after impressing at former club FC Tom Tomsk, but has struggled to break into the side, sparking interest of his availability from his former employers.

    Tomsk manager Valeri Neopomniachi told the Daily Mail: “Apart from our interest, Sergey [Kornilenko] has proposals from a foreign club and a top Russian side. We believe West Ham [United] are interested, so our chances are probably not too great.”

    The 6ft 1ins former Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Minsk striker has an impressive goal ratio across Eastern Europe, in addition to scoring nine times in 30 international showings.

    Habs' Andrei Kostitsyn out indefinitely after knee surgery

    The Canadiens said forward Andrei Kostitsyn will be out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery on Friday in Montreal.

    The 24-year-old, selected to play on Belarus' Olympic team, suffered a knee injury at Florida on Dec. 31 and has missed the team’s last three games.

    Kostitsyn has 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 40 games with the Canadiens this season. He missed three games from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1 with to a foot injury. His brother Sergei hasn't played since Dec. 30 due to an ankle injury.

  • Endnote...

    Oil Feud Reflects Growing Rift Between Russia and Belarus, Once Close Allies

    From: New York Times
    From left, the Russian leaders Vladimir V. Putin and Dmitri A. Medvedev with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus.
    The oil price dispute that erupted over the weekend between Russia and Belarus has been depicted as a threat to European energy supplies — a development that has become something of an annual cold weather ritual. The greater threat, however, seems to be to relations between the two countries, often thought of as the closest of allies.

    The quarrel involves a crude-oil subsidy that for years has helped prop up the government of the authoritarian leader of Belarus, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. The subsidy agreement, which yielded billions in profits annually to Belarus’s national oil company, ended on New Year’s Eve, and Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, said he had no intention of restoring it.

    As he did in past disputes with Ukraine over natural gas pricing, Mr. Putin appears to have picked a fight over prices to settle a political score. Even though the states remain nominally joined in a political union, relations between Russia and Belarus have been deteriorating for some time.

    Firmly in Russia’s orbit back in 2006, during a re-election vote condemned as fraudulent by Western observers, Mr. Lukashenko was subsequently shocked when Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, asked to increase prices. After that power play, political experts say, he began maneuvering to make his foreign policy allegiance far more ambiguous, making overtures to the West as leverage for seeking concessions from Russia.

    By the summer of 2008, relations had deteriorated so much that Mr. Lukashenko was clearly out of step with Russia’s neighborhood agenda, refusing, for example, to recognize the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia as independent states.

    Throughout the past year, Mr. Lukashenko has acquiesced to a number of Western demands, including the release of political prisoners and the pardon last summer of an American lawyer who had been imprisoned after a closed trial.

    Last summer, Russia banned dairy exports from Belarus, supposedly because they fell short of new packaging requirements. That prompted Mr. Lukashenko to boycott a Russian-sponsored ceremony to introduce a joint military force.

    In the spring, in a move that Mr. Lukashenko had to know was anathema to the Kremlin, Belarus agreed to join the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, which aims to strengthen ties between Europe and six post-Soviet countries. It was either a sign of a long-term tack toward the West or merely the latest in a long series of feints and dramatic gestures intended to manage his relations with Russia, said Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a telephone interview.

    In this context, Mr. Wilson said, the Russian threat to end the oil subsidy makes more sense, a matter of “turning the screw to try to guarantee it gets a better return on the money it gives.”

    Under the pressure of these moves and countermoves, the Belarus-Russia alliance — once intended to become a single “Union State” bound by loose notions of Slavic brotherhood — has regressed to a customs zone, but even that is now threatened.

    The two countries remain committed, at least nominally, to an eventual political union, but they continued their bickering on Monday as the national electricity company in Minsk, the Belarussian capital, said it might halt transmission to Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, citing a lapsed contract.

    A Belarussian official was later quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that this was only a “warning” in response to the Russian threat on oil.