Belarus just suspended the shipment of light oil products from Russia to the West in the latest escalation of the unprecedented dispute between these two “Union State” “allies” in a move that might very well mark the beginning of the end for their strategic partnership.
“Pulling A Ukraine”
Belarus just “pulled a Ukraine” by suspending the shipment of light oil products from Russia to the West and announcing that it’s seeking to import supplies from Azerbaijan, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia instead. This dramatic escalation is the latest development in the unprecedented dispute between these two “Union State” “allies” that had been simmering for the past few years now but was most immediately triggered by Russia’s refusal to continue subsidizing the Belarusian economy after it decided to impose oil export taxes on its shipments to Belarus, which Minsk estimates will deprive it of $300-400 million in yearly revenue that it had hitherto reaped by re-exporting these resources. It’s thought that Russia decided to do this in order to recoup some of the losses that it’s experienced since the onset of the West’s sanctions regime against it, but Belarus sees this as a hostile act directed against the country in general and its leader in particular due to the “security dilemma” that the West has successfully tricked Lukashenko into falling for.
The Basics Of The Russian-Belarusian Strategic Partnership
To explain, Belarus has remained impressively stable since independence and its economy stands apart from many countries in the region as a very promising one due to the way in which it’s managed, though most people don’t realize that it’s only through Moscow’s subsidization of its neighbor that Minsk was able to survive for so long without undertaking the painful economic reforms that Russia and other former Soviet Republics did shortly after the USSR’s collapse. Russia understood the geostrategic significance of Belarus and therefore wanted to indefinitely keep it inside its “sphere of influence”, hence its inclusion in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAU) trade bloc, the CSTO mutual defense organization, and the “Union State” framework between the two. Lukashenko tacitly agreed for his country to remain a de-facto Russian “satellite” in order to preserve his own power and prevent his people from having to suffer the consequences of the same neoliberal reforms that its patron had undertaken, though that all recently began to change.
The US used to treat Belarus as a “pariah state” and even considered it the “last dictatorship in Europe” at one time during the height of the Bush Administration’s Color Revolution blitz of the mid-2000s, though it’s lately begun to enter into a fast-moving rapprochement with it that’s capitalized on the many misperceptions between Minsk and Moscow. I wrote about this in two Eurasia Future articles titled “Belarus Just Threw Russia Under The Bus” and “Belarus & Russia: Nipping The “Annexation” Infowar Narrative In The Bud“, which included references to previous pieces on the topic and also sought to dispel a lot of the misinformation being spread about those two countries’ relations, particularly regarding the “Union State” that the “Putinist” members of the Alt-Media Community were wrongly convinced was on the verge of becoming a full-fledged political union earlier this year after both sides used this rhetoric to disguise their growing disagreements with one another.
The “Russian Threat”?
At this point in time, however, Russian-Belarusian relations are worse than ever after Minsk accused Moscow of exporting low-quality oil through its pipelines, which Lukashenko then used as the pretext for suspending the shipment of light oil to the West in order to raise the stakes in his negotiations with Putin and hopefully compel his counterpart into undertaking concessions such as continuing to subsidize his “junior partner’s” economy. Putin will probably have none of that, however, since Russian strategists must have predicted that Lukashenko would resort to some treachery or another to strengthen his hand and likely have contingency plans in place for this very scenario, though that’s exactly what the Belarusian leader fears the most. The removal of Russia’s oil subsidies will force Belarus to reform its economy otherwise it’ll likely suffer the recession that the World Bank just warned about, which could in turn have serious domestic political consequences.
With general elections to be held sometime next year, there’s more than enough time for foreign forces to cultivate an opposition leader to replace him, one who might even rise to power through a Color Revolution that takes advantage of the difficult economic situation that awaits Belarusians after the end of Russia’s subsidies and the beginning of inevitable but very painful economic reforms. Lukashenko doesn’t just have to worry about the West being behind this possible plot because his paranoia has likely peaked as a result of the “security dilemma” that he’s presently experiencing with Russia and he might even suspect that Moscow might intend to remove from him power as punishment for reaching out to the West and playing “hardball” with Putin. It doesn’t matter whether this is objectively true or not, as all that’s important is that Lukashenko perceives the situation in this manner, which he arguably does.
An Unprecedented Pivot
After all, the case can be made that his pro-Western reorientation over the past few years and especially over the last one might have been due to him concluding that it’s better to side with the most powerful Color Revolution masterminds than to risk their wrath by staying within Russia’s “sphere of influence” and “suffering for no reason” after his partner stopped subsidizing his economy. The Polish-led “Three Seas Initiative” also looks a lot more promising than the EAU by comparison when considering that Belarus never thought that its Russian partner would impose hefty oil taxes against it. While many would prefer “the devil that they know” to the one that they don’t, it seems like Lukashenko is taking a gamble and doesn’t mind seeing what the “devil that he doesn’t know” has to offer, hence why he undertook the fateful decision to suspend Russia’s light oil exports through his country’s territory.
There’s no going back from what Belarus just did since it appears bound to set into motion a self-sustaining process of destabilization between itself and Russia, exactly as the West hoped it would do this entire time. In the battle of egos between the very strong personalities of the Belarusian and Russian leaders, neither looks set to concede anything to the other in order to avoid losing “face” and looking weak to their people. Lukashenko hopes that the “David vs. Goliath” optics of this stunt will invoke enough patriotic fervor that his people will be willing to accept the forthcoming economic hardships that they’ll probably have to suffer, while Putin can’t afford to look like he’s being bossed around by his Belarusian counterpart ahead of the ongoing systemic transition to PP24 (Post-Putin 2024) otherwise he’ll be seen as a “lame duck” half a decade too early.
Belarus and Russia objectively need one another because Minsk depends on its partner’s markets and resources while Moscow relies on its neighbor’s territory to act as a “buffer zone” against NATO’s expansion towards its own border, so “conventional wisdom” would have suggested that none of what was elaborated on in this analysis would ever come to pass though it veritably has and therefore proved that it’s possible for the strategic interference of third-party states to ruin even the most “utopian” bilateral relations such as those that had hitherto existed between Belarus and Russia. The possibly impending loss of this EAU and CSTO member state would deal a crushing blow to Russian grand strategy in the New Cold War and amount to a crisis of epic national security proportions, one which Moscow might be forced to (pro)actively respond to in an asymmetrical manner.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: Eurasia Future