Belarus is slowly entering the third month of consecutive protests and there is very little indication that either of the sides is ready to let go. President Lukashenko continues to disperse protesters with water cannons whilst gradually booting out all foreign reporters who might present a different picture than that of a Manichean struggle between the forces of law and order and hell-bent troublemakers. Amidst the manifold incarcerations and convictions, the opportunities for a negotiated solution are becoming slimmer by the day. Ironically for President Lukashenko, the international pressure on him to step down has compelled him to get back to his traditional trading partner, Russia. In the meantime, Belarus has sunk to the reality of it being sanctioned by the European Union. EU leaders have managed to persuade Cyprus which had resisted any calls to sanction Minsk (Cyprus was obstructing the Belorussian vote as a means of focusing more attention on its travails with Turkey’s illegal drilling programs) and have levied restrictive measures on 40 Belorussian officials with one major exception granted – President Lukashenko was not included. The fact that the list is overwhelmingly composed of Interior Ministry cadres only underscores the awkwardness with which Brussels endeavors to pressurize the long-standing Belorussian leader into relinquishing his position. The US sanctions list is even thinner than the European one, combining a total of 7 persons, however Washington has had Lukashenko on sanctions since 2006.
Political pressure mounting on Lukashenko has pushed the besieged Belorussian president closer to Moscow. One of the recurring themes of Russo-Belorussian energy talks, the price negotiations on the upcoming years’ natural gas imports, went much easier this year – by early September the two sides have already indicated their preliminary agreement on the conditions of the agreement. Before the elections President Lukashenko was stating that Minsk might ask for 40-45 USD per MMCm (its agreed 2019 price was set at 132 USD per MMCm), nowadays Belorussian officials no longer state their ideal pricing level be set that low. Moreover, Minsk now seems to be open to embrace the 2022 startup of the Eurasian Economic Union common gas market rules.
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It remains to be seen what exactly Minsk and Moscow could agree on with regard to the former’s crude imports. The crux of the disagreement has been the fixed discount to the average Urals monthly price which the Belarussian side sees as high as 12 USD per metric ton (i.e. 1.65 USD per barrel). As the Belorussian state oil company Belneftekhim failed to find common ground with Russian crude exporters, all of whom had no interest in maintaining a subsidized form of oil deliveries and wanted to squeeze as much as possible from Russia’s…