A deck of 28 cards is back in play
Direct Belarusian involvement in the war in Ukraine is still pending, and there is still significant uncertainty regarding the outcome. Import substitution initiatives are proceeding sluggishly, particularly regarding whether the new loan from Russia will be directed solely towards import substitution. It is time to return to the old 28-card deck.
On Monday, January 9th, during a meeting with the State Secretary of the “Union State” of Belarus and Russia, Dmitry Mezentsev, the current head of the Supreme Council, Lukashenka, stated that it is necessary to review the Union State agenda and convene the highest governing bodies for an in-person summit.
Since the leadership of Belarus and Russia have paid little or no heed to the Union State agenda since November 2021, it is predictable that a review would be in order.
According to Minsk, 2023 opened with 671 out of 989 planned union program activities completed (67.8%), with 7 out of 28 programs fully implemented. In 2023, the completion of 300 more activities is anticipated, though the content of the programs remains unknown.
The Kremlin has not yet commented on these statistics. In October 2021, D. Mezentsev reported that 50% of the union programs were already complete.
On January 12th, Lukashenka convened a meeting on implementing 28 sectoral programs, speaking about them at length and encouraging ministers to take notes. His primary themes were:
- Everything is going (almost) according to plan, although some aspects are behind schedule.
- There have been no notable advances in energy, industry and transport.
Lukashenka noted that the second issue must be addressed “at the highest level”, though he declared after December negotiations with Putin that “the necessary solutions have been found … for at least [the next] three years.”
This is a historic achievement. For the first time, Russia and Belarus agreed on a fixed gas price for three years. In 2023, Belarus will pay USD128.52 per thousand cubic meters for Russian gas. In 2022 and 2021, the rate was the same, slightly less in 2019-2020 at USD127 per 1,000 cubic meters and slightly more in 2018 at USD 129 per 1000 cubic meters. Despite tough negotiations, what has changed in six years? Nothing but the fact that the dictators have agreed that Lukashenka can only challenge the gas price, which, in general, he is not entirely satisfied with every three years instead of every year.
An agreement was also reached between Lukashenka and Putin on the Russian “tax manoeuvre for the extraction of natural resources” (MET). From January 1st, 2023, Belarus will receive a reverse excise tax, though the amount of compensation from the introduction of the MET depends on factors such as world oil prices and has not yet been publicly discussed.
The meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State will presumably take place in Russia in mid-February. The exact location and date are still being discussed.
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Situation in Belarus