Gazprom can wait
The second gas conflict between Russia and Belarus is to be over. Belarus has already transferred the first part of the money for gas and received a weekly respite for paying off the amount. But Gazprom is likely to keep on pressing on Lukashenko in order to get in Belarus assets that it is interested in. such policy prejudices possibility of peaceful integration within the post-Soviet area.
Belarus transferred this morning to Gazprom $190 mln. Earlier it was reported that Belarus would use its reserve to pay off the debt.
Belarus has been receiving gas in full, reported OAO Beltransgaz. Representatives of the company also stated that talks with Gazprom continued in Moscow.
In Wednesday Gazprom claimed that, according to the contract, since 10 A.M. of August 3rd it would reduce a daily gas supply in Belarus proportionally the actual payment, i.e. for 45%. The
It should be reminded that the present conflict is a sequel of the previous “gas war”. In the end of 2006 Russia canceled preferential duties for oil for Belarus and, besides that, the countries could not arrange about price for gas. Only in the very last moment they managed to come to an agreement and in the last minutes of 2006 Gazprom and Beltransgaz signed a contract for gas delivery and transit in 2007-2011. According to the agreement Belarus is to pay the state-run Russian gas monopoly Gazprom $110 per a thousand of cubic meters of natural gas. But a part of the gas Belarus received in installments and it had to pay 45% of supplies till the end of July 2007.
Respite of the payment amounted to $456,16 mln, but the sum was not transferred in time. However some sources argued that default of payment was caused not by lack of money but by problems with conversion of Belarusan rubles in USD. Money was supposedly raised from Belarusan enterprises and was on special account of the Ministry of Finance. Some experts supposed that conversion of a sum equal to one fifth of the whole gold and exchange currency reserves of the country could cause a drop of Belarusian ruble. According to a representative of Gazprom, Minsk has explained that they could not convert $456 mln without damage to the economy of the country. At the same time Gazprom says that it has transferred in time $625 mln for purchased 12,5% of shares of OAO Beltransgaz.
Minsk had to receive from Russia $1,5 bln of stabilizing credit to compensate losses of cancellation of preferential duties on oil. Minsk intended to pay for gas just from this credit money. Already in the middle of July Alexei Kudrin, a Russian Minister of Finance, stated that everything for giving out the credit was ready and only some technical points rested. But the credit has not been granted. Some experts reckon that it may be Gazprom who persuaded Moscow not to hurry with the credit.
Minsk was searching other sources of finance. Belarusan vice-premier Vladimir Semashko argued recently that they had managed to arrange with Venezuela about a $500 mln credit for a fifteen-year period. But the purpose of the credit was quite another.
Minsk asked Gazprom about respite, but Gazprom refused to do with a good grace. According to some sources, Gazprom would like to obtain some assets in Belarus in exchange for writing down of the debt. The Belarusan president Alexander Lukashenko word-painted these aspirations in such a way: “It the first time when I afford to pronounce that. Russia is seeking for privatizing not only separated enterprises, even not for privatizing but for seizing them up; but it is seeking for privatizing all our country”.
First of all Gazprom would like to get shares. It is to receive them in four stages but preferred to get them all just now in order to avoid the risk. Besides that Gazprom can get some assets of crude oil refining industry. In the spring a number of Russian oil companies decreased an amount of oil refinery processing on two Belarusan refineries. It was caused by canceling of preferential duties on Russian oil. But Gazprom oil may be interested in these assets. Now, when Belarus seems to find money, Gazprom can hardly aspire after these assets. But in a half a year the issue can become relevant again.
It’s a matter for the future though. Now one can review results of the second gas conflict with Belarus. The culmination of the second gas conflict was much less tense than one of the first conflict or than the conflict with Ukraine of the 2005-2006. If not a summer informational quite it would have been hardly remarked. Besides that failures in supplies in summer time are not so grave as if it were during the heating season.
But, as Polit.ru has already mentioned, gas is a sore point for Lukashenko. End of financing of his regime by resale of oil and gas won’t certainly cause a break-up of Lukashenko’s government, but integration processes in post-Soviet area will be interrupted or at least will go differently than it has seemed in the 90s if or even will stop. Representatives of the United State of Russia and Belarus argue that there is no crisis and that integration processes continue. Just these statements let infer that nothing of the kind occurs. Russia just wants to obtain the best assets and it is not about to unite with former Soviet countries on any equal terms.
Russia has another problem, since reaction of the West on any gas conflict with transit countries are always extremely tough. This time the State Department of the USA opposed involving policy in energy sphere and strongly recommended the countries not to prejudice gas supplies in other countries while solving own problems.
“What we'd like to see happen is the Russians and the Belarusian Government work out a reasonable settlement of this issue; to do so in a way that doesn't call into question the viability of the supplies of gas, whether to Belarus or to any of the other countries that are further on down the pipeline,” said Tom Casey, deputy spokesman of the U.S. Department of State. At the moment Russia can’t do without transit through Ukraine and Belarus, since neither the Nord Stream pipeline nor the new Baltic Pipeline System (BPS2) have not been completed yet. So, Russia has to negotiate with transit countries.
Before the New Year the Time claimed that the conflict with Belarus was nothing but a part of Putin’s scheme of annexation of Belarus. This time the annexation of gas assets has not been arranged. But Gazprom can wait.