U.S. sanctions against Lukashenka regime extended

U.S. President Barack Obama extended for another year sanctions imposed against certain Belarusian high-ranking officials on June 16, 2006. “The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. Accordingly, the national emergency declared on June 16, 2006, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond June 16, 2010.

Therefore, in accordance with […] the National Emergencies Act […] I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency,” says the Notice* from Barack Obama to the U.S. Congress released on June 8. According to the U.S. president, despite the release of internationally recognized political prisoners in 2008 and the U.S.’s continuing efforts to press for democratic reforms in Belarus, serious challenges remain.

According to RFE/RL's Belarus Service*, Belarus has called continued U.S. sanctions against it "pointless" and "confrontational." Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinnykh said the extension signaled the United States’ lack of political readiness to normalize relations with Belarus. "The abolition of all types of sanctions is a fundamental precondition for the renewal of dialogue," Savinnykh said. But David Kramer, a former U.S. State Department official, said any improvement in ties was in Minsk's hands. Kramer served during the George W. Bush administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, responsible for a region that included Belarus.

"Belarus and the Lukashenka regime know what they need to do if they want to improve relations with the United States and with the West," Kramer told RFE/RL. "And that is to stop cracking down on people's rights [and] liberalize their society. But I fear the situation is only going to get worse as Belarus approaches a presidential election [in 2011]."


Belarus Officials Fly to Russia for Oil Talks

The Belarusian-Russian oil conflict once again demonstrates the fact that relations between both countries are far from what could have been called friendly. All the declarations of “eternal Slavic brotherhood” vanish once real money gets involved. The fight about eventual Russian oil duties has burst out just several days after the pompous establishing of the Customs union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. This may only be a signal that this post-Soviet integration initiative is the same farce as its uncountable predecessors.

Russia wants to reshape its relations with Belarus and make them more market-based. The Belarusian officials are trying to retain Russian financial preferences that create a huge annual flow of cash into the pockets of the Belarusian government. In any case, in the mid-term Belarus will inevitably have to accept that expensive oil and gas is the price it has to pay for a real and sound independence from Russia.

MINSK, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Belarus sent a delegation to Moscow on Tuesday for talks to resolve an oil dispute that has disrupted crude shipments to Belarussian refineries and raised the spectre of winter supply problems for the European Union.

“The delegation will fly today,” Belarussian government spokesman Alexander Timoshenko said by telephone, adding that the delegation included the head of Belarus’s Belneftekhim state oil company, Valery Kazakevich.

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Financial Times: Russia Stops Delivery of Oil to Belarus

Russia continues to cut subsidies to Belarus economy. This time, it has reached the lucrative oil refining business, which had already been hit by the US sanctions. Belarus inherited from the Soviet Union two large oil refineries – one in Navapolatsk and the other one in Mazyr.

According to Russia, Belarus enjoyed duty-free prices for oil and its derivatives, intended both for domestic use and transit. In 2010 n only oil for domestic consumption can be exempt from duties. This is something the Belarus Government is strongly opposed to.

According to analysts, after Russia cut crude supplies to Belarus oil prices hurdled 80 dollars a barrel on the first trading day of the year Monday. The move will certainly worry Europeans, who still remember natural gas wars between Russia and Ukraine. At some point left several eastern European cities were left without gas for days. But, as the Financial Time notes, oil is more fungible than gas and easily made up with alternative suppliers, so the consequences of the dispute are unlikely to be as severe. Here is the Belarus position:

On January 1 a spokesman for the Belarus government told Interfax news agency that “unprecedented pressure” had been put on their delegation during the negotiations. Minsk called on Russia to continue supplies to Belarus under the old terms, until a new agreement could be reached.


It warned that Russian demands would violate a customs union agreement signed last year by Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, and “would undermine all agreements reached on the further integration of our states”.

The dispute is likely to present an obstacle to closer ties between the two countries. Belarus is virtually Russia’s only ally among former Soviet republics.

Moscow and Minsk signed a series of treaties aimed at unifying their countries in the 1990s, though these have failed to be realised amid friction between the Kremlin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Likewise, the customs union agreement remains largely on paper.

Read more about the oil price dispute at FT.com and in New York Times.