How Low Can Minsk Go for Cheaper Energy?
To lower the price of Russian energy Belarus has tried pleas, threats, promises, and blackmail. Minsk set lowering the cost of imported energy as a condition to joining the Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan and last week went as far as to offer to give Russian firms control over its energy assets.
Having accused Russia of trying to subdue Belarus by acquiring its key industrial assets, Minsk is nevertheless ready to cede control of the gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz (of which Russian Gazprom already owns 50%) and the Mozyr oil refinery in return for oil and gas supplies at Russian domestic prices.
Luckily, Igor Sechin, Putin’s deputy in charge of energy, was not thrilled with Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s proposal. Sechin said Belarus would have to clear its outstanding debt of $200 million before any deal can be considered.
All these last-ditch efforts not to pay the true cost of energy would do is allow Belarus’ Soviet-style economy to continue in its tracks without a serious reform until the next energy crisis hits. While without the duty-free oil and gas, joining the Customs Union hardly makes economic sense for Minsk, there is even less economic sense in ceding control of Belarus’ energy infrastructure.
Everything has a price: if not paid right away, then paid later — with interest. Unless they are willing to trade their independence for a temporary discount, states have to buy energy at the global market costs.
Looking back at Minsk’s numerous attempts to get on brotherly terms with Moscow hoping for some nepotistic economic relationship, one sees that the struggling Customs Union project may well be the beginning of the end of several unsuccessful integration projects in the post-Soviet space, including the Union State between Russia and Belarus and their single economic space.
Since the uncivilized nepotistic ways are failing, it is high time for Belarus to resort to more civilized forms of international economic relations by initiating a full-scale economic reform, strengthening political and economic ties with the European Union, and catching up on the alternative energy solutions.
If the energy issues are as important as Belarus’ efforts on that front suggest, then it is definitely not in Minsk’s interest to cede control of this important strategic asset to Russia, even if “for decent money,” as the Belarusian President hopes.
The loss of control over its energy transit and refinery system will result in the loss of the only bargaining chip Minsk has while securing Russia’s gas supply routes to the European market.
Insider’s view from Belarusian Gay Pride March
Sergey Yenin, a vice chairman of the LGBT Human Rights Group GayBelarus.By and co-organizer of the Slavic Pride in Minsk shares his first-hand experience. Gay Pride March took place in Minsk on May 15. After some 200 meters, it was broken up by the riot police with twelve participants arrested after scenes of reported police violence. According to UKGayNews*, these are probably the most dramatic 1,000 words written about a Gay Pride event anywhere in the world this year.
Arrested, Beaten, Threatened, Jailed and Sent for Trial Just for Taking Part in Slavic Gay Pride …Yet PROUD of what we all accomplished in Minsk By Sergey Yenin MINSK, May 19, 2010 – This is an account of the most dramatic 48 hours in my life as a gay activist in Belarus. There were four of us in the taxi. Myself, Logan (and Australian filmmaker), Jack (his boyfriend) and Chad (a photographer working on a project Walk with Pride). I couldn’t help shivering in anticipation of the upcoming Pride march and the possible extreme few hours that I would probably face. But I couldn’t let my friends worry as well. The taxi driver noticed that something was really wrong with the place he had to drop us off.
“What’s going on here? Who are you?” – the taxi driver asked me. “Just tourists going to the hotel” – I responded. It was the place where the Pride was going to take place and was situated near a hotel. Logan prepared his camera and Jack took a paper notebook and a pen into his hands: “I hope I will look like a journalist,” he remarked. Seven taxies stopped in the immediate area and participants of the Slavic Pride got out of the cars. The place was full of journalists ready for the action. Everything looked like a flash mob: we all walked along the street a bit and suddenly one of us took out a 12-meter rainbow flag out of his bag. Later, events passed by very quickly. A group of Russian guys took out smaller flags and posters, I grabbed the huge flag and everyone rushed ahead shouting out slogans: “Homophobia is a disease”, “Belarus free of homophobia” etc. The journalists didn’t spend their time in vain: as soon as the notices the 12-meter flag were displayed, they turned on their cameras and aimed them at us. We stopped for a while near a Belarusian institute of arts, expanded the flag and continued shouting out our slogans. After a while we continued marching down the street. I noticed two journalists quarreling because one of them occupied the other’s place for photo shooting and it made me smile. I suspect I had looked quite serious before. Suddenly a police car full of big, severe guys stopped. The doors opened and an army of policemen rushed on us. Oleg and I lost control and started running back. Everything messed up in my head and I couldn’t understand where exactly I was running to. There was one aim: to run somewhere away from this massacre. Passing by one of the journalists I saw him throwing an egg at me. He missed, but it made me run faster. Two plain-clothes policemen were a real obstacle for me: I could figure out that these men were from the police only by a walkie-talkie stashed in a pocket of one of these guys. With great subtlety one of them hit my leg with his knee and threw me down on the ground. When I was recovering my glasses, he grabbed my collar and dragged me behind him for a while. With a rapid move he picked me up and punched me hard in the chest. I can still remember his face during this heavy handed treatment: his eyes were full of anger and the mouth was deformed with a blush of hatred. At the same time he understood I was his target and I was maybe twice young as him. He wasn’t a human anymore… Another guy grabbed my collar in order to prevent me from running away. Then I saw Oleg. He was suffering from pain caused by gastric ulcer he had. No one was paying attention to his suffering, all the police were concerned about was a way to take us to a police department. The mother of one of our activists quickly appeared in front of us and introduced herself as a doctor in order to lead us away from the threat. She was totally ignored and we were tossed into a police car. We were sitting on the floor of the police department. I felt blood running down my arms. My shirt was tattered with dark red spots all over. I put myself together and made a statement that we needed an ambulance. Should I say that it’s obvious that the statement was ignored? Then the others were brought-in. My friends were thrown out of another police car and were forced to go inside the police department. They looked so fragile in comparison to huge clumsy policemen. The short walk was followed by kicks. I could do nothing but look at this happening. I felt so helpless. The police then brought the 12-meter Rainbow flag in to the room. They put it on the floor and started mocking at us. One of my friends told me that while he was in the car the policemen were forcing a baton into his mouth and promised they would force it up his backside in case he tried sucking the baton. They then took us to another room for interrogation. We spent another two hours there. They were humiliating us all that time. One of them kept a gas balloon in front of my face saying: “I will fucking burn your eyes right now!” We were terrified. We couldn’t ever imagine the safest place in the world could be so insecure… We were released on Monday. We were waiting for this moment eagerly all this time. Two nights in the police department seemed an eternity for us. So now when I’m free I can’t keep it to myself. I don’t appear to have any freedom of speech in my country, but I have the freedom on the internet. VB