Belarus and Georgia Feel the Sting of the Russian Energy Empire

Today Vladimir Socor at EDM has a great article posted on Moscow’s threats to quadruple the price of gas to Belarus in order to pressure the Lukashenka administration into selling off half of Beltransgas. While the two governments disagree over the true value of Beltransgas, a very familiar face has stepped into the fold to evaluate the firm: ABN AMRO. Socor writes:

These Russian measures are not only economically motivated, but also designed to goad Belarus into yielding sovereignty and forming a “union state” with Russia under the threat of losing control over national assets. This is how Lukashenka and some of his closest confidants, such as Mikalay Charhinets, chairman of a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and national security, interpret Moscow’s latest moves regarding oil and gas. According to Charhinets, these moves “amount in practice to a Russian economic war on Belarus….The Russian side is being inconsistent in its approach to forming a union state. Previously they were asking us to resolve the political issues [regarding the union state], but now we hear from the Russian president’s mouth that economic integration has priority….The Russian leadership’s position means that Belarus must consider other options to preserve its sovereignty and economic security.” Charhinets went so far as to warn that Belarus could question the continuing presence of Russian military installations in Belarus (Interfax, October 25). In a similar vein, an irate Lukashenka told a visiting Russian regional governor that Minsk “categorically opposes the tearing up of union relations and union agreements” — that is, the switch of Moscow’s priorities toward economic integration of Belarus with Russia. “Well, we don’t want to sell certain state assets,” he confirmed, alluding to the oil refineries. And, “Why is Russia building up a [customs] border with Belarus? In that case we can also start building up a customs border” (Interfax, October 31).

gas_belarus.jpg Socor’s analysis comes on the same day that it is further announced that Moscow intends to double gas prices to Georgia. The Guardian reports the following:

In an interview with the Guardian and other western media Mr Bezhuashvili said Russia would need to explain why such a large increase was needed. “They present this as a commercial deal but there is a big portion of politics inside the price,” he said. Moscow has consistently denied the increases are political, saying prices are only being brought in to line with those on the European market. However, Ukraine and Georgia appear to have been singled out for large hikes because of their leaderships’ desire to join Nato and the EU.