Lukashenko: Not again

The clouds hanging over gas delivery to Belarus are lifting. Sources close to Gazprom have said that Minsk has paid into the company's bank account 260 million dollars for the May supply of Russian gas to Belarus, a signal that Minsk now realizes that the terms of the contract signed with Russia should be respected scrupulously.

The settlement of the 192 million dollars debt for four months delivery of Russian gas to Minsk remains outstanding, and Gazprom is demanding immediate payment of the debt. The conflict with Belarus will remain until the debt is cleared. Analysts believe that the gas war , about which Alexander Lukashenko talked so animatedly, perhaps has political undertones. Presidential election is due to be held in Belarus in the start of next year, and by blowing the gas argument with Moscow out of proportion, Lukashenko is hoping to reap political gains, by presenting himself as a fighter for the national interest of Belarus.

"Which country better fit the role of the enemy than Russia, a brotherly and friendly nation," asked Yury Solozobov, chief of the institute of energy policy. "Alexander Lukashenko can always produce the unexpected; his position on the gas issue is weak; it is clear that debt must be repaid and that it is wrong to unilaterally fix the price of gas. Belarus pays a privileged price for Russian gas, and yet it is unhappy. Everything has an end. Alexander Lukashenko has not carried out the threat to block the supply of Russian gas to Europe, knowing full well the consequences. The EU will not take kindly the cutting off of the continent's economic life-line, the more so since Minsk is viewed with deep suspicion by Brussels. EU's anger could have catastrophic fallout for Lukashenko ahead of next February's presidential poll in Belarus. Lukashenko knows that he risks the losing of a larger amount than the notorious 192 million dollars; Russia can use an alternative route to deliver its gas to Europe."

Ukraine has already offered to transit Russian gas to Europe, and the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Nikolai Azarov, says that his country can pump 30 billion cubic meters of gas to the continent, assuring the EU that Ukraine's pipelines are the most reliable for supplying gas to Europe. In addition, the South Stream project is being executed with renewed vigour, to minimize a dependence on, or even completely do without a third country-transit. Alexander Lukashenko no longer has a trump card in the transiting of Russian gas to Europe, and hence he must think about another ploy to shore up his flagging political fortunes.


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