Russia-Belarus relations are being stretched to their limits. In response to the Russian phytosanitary regulatory authority’s recent decision to ban the import of Belarusian apples and pears, Minsk has now threatened to target Russia’s oil transit to Europe.
Russia “has already grown so brazen that it has started to force our hand,” said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday.
He added that, if needed, Belarus is prepared to close the oil pipelines for repair, even if this results in damage to Russia.
“If it is necessary to renovate the oil and oil product pipes that pass through Belarus, we will renovate them. Because the good that we do for the Russian Federation constantly turns into evil for us,” BelTA cites Lukashenko as saying.
The Druzhba (“Friendship”) pipeline that was built in the 1960s passes through Belarus, and is used to supply Poland and Germany with about 66 million tons of Russian oil every year, the equivalent of 23% of Russia’s remote oil exports.
Belarus intends to raise its transit tariff by 23% in 2019, announced Nikolay Tokarev, president of the Russian oil transport company Transneft, at the start of the week.
The last attempt at negotiations between Belarus and Russia, when Lukashenko came to the Kremlin bearing three sacks of potatoes for Putin, did not have any significant results.
The dispute began with a tax maneuver by Moscow that could deprive Minsk of millions in oil resale revenue. Lukashenko has warned that, if Belarus is not compensated for these losses, Russia could lose its only ally in the West.
The Belarusian president has also categorically refused to allow Russia to deploy an aerospace base in the country, saying that it would create security risks and put the country “under a possible aggressor”. In January he also publicly rejected the idea of transitioning to the Russian ruble, emphasizing that his countrymen want to establish a sovereign and independent state. “We would like to be in any union, but to live in our own quarters. We already have these quarters,” Lukashenko remarked.