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7 Feb, 2020 22:33

Putin & Lukashenko’s ‘moment of truth’ in Sochi: Agreement reached on ice hockey, but no deal on political impasse

Putin & Lukashenko’s ‘moment of truth’ in Sochi: Agreement reached on ice hockey, but no deal on political impasse

The Belarusian leader had dubbed it the “moment of truth” in relations between Moscow and Minsk. However, Friday’s Sochi meeting between Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko ended with a whimper rather than a scream.

There was no post-summit press conference, let alone white smoke. In the end, Putin's deputy chief of staff, Dmitry Kozak, delivered a statement that revealed Russia won't be giving oil discounts to Belarus. From this we can infer no progress was made. Unless, of course, there are subsequent revelations.

Fundamentally, Moscow has been subsidizing Minsk for a couple of decades. Lukashenko has used that support to keep his economy stable and maintain his hold on power. What he wants is cheap oil, so that he can sell the surplus on to other countries and use the profits to supplement the state budget.

Also on rt.com 'Moment of truth has come,' says Belarus' Lukashenko as he prepares for Putin showdown this week

In return, Putin demands that Belarus implement the “union state” the two countries signed up for around the turn of the century. This means the establishment of supranational bodies, including a shared ruble. Lukashenko isn't keen and even took to cozying up the US, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offering last weekend to deliver “100 percent” of Minsk's oil needs.

In the real world, there are a few problems with this idea, most notably the fact the US itself is importing oil from Russia. Not to mention that, if Belarus alienates Moscow, it’s unclear how it would pay its bills, given the level of economic dependence. All of these points have been repeatedly made in the Russian press.

From what Kozak said, Minsk will have to pay market prices. “If we provide discounts, we would need to introduce state regulation of the oil market, which we cannot do – we cannot constantly change the rules of the game,” he told reporters. Gas will be supplied to Belarus on 2019 terms, which amount to $127 per 1,000 cubic meters. Lukashenko had been seeking a price of $73 for that quantity.

Also on rt.com Pompeo says US can cover 100% of Belarus' oil needs amid Minsk row with Moscow

On Tuesday, on home turf, the Belarusian leader had talked tough. “We have built these good relations [between Belarus and Russia]. We were the architects of these relations,” Lukashenko said about Putin. “Are we the ones to break them at the end of our political careers? We cannot be here forever. The question is what legacy we will leave.”

He was referring to his Russian counterpart's intention to leave the Kremlin at the end of his current term. Lukashenko clarified that his country seeks “fair, genuine, and transparent relations” with Russia, emphasizing that Belarus is a “sovereign and independent state that pursues its own foreign policy.”

Today's meeting was held up because Putin's aides were delayed in arriving. First they were late leaving Moscow, due to a snowstorm, and then had to divert to Mineralnye Vody, after circling for an hour over Sochi, due to more bad weather. While they waited, the two presidents decided to play a friendly game of ice hockey.

Also on rt.com Pompeo vows to name US envoy to Belarus as Lukashenko praises him for RISK to visit Minsk & scrutinize country’s democracy

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