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  Belarusian energy: ongoing processes and opportunities for Lithuania (1)

Antanas Šutas
2013 09 30

Vilnius is only 30 km away from the border of Belarus behind which energy and economic processes, as well as political and daily life of citizens are so different from that in Lithuania and the EU; nevertheless, it would be quite useful to have some basic knowledge about the neighbours (including their energy issues). 

Belarusian policy is based on bluffing (counterfeiting), especially at international level; the attempts to maintain friendly relations with Russia aggravate Lithuania‘s possibility to cooperate in the field of energy. In fact, Belarusian oil energy experts are positive toward the Klaipėda Seaport, let alone fertiliser manufacturers, and in the above field transnational relations are quite close. 

Belarus imports 90 percent of its gas from Russia and produces from it 85 percent of energy. Oil refineries use Russian oil, and recently Russia took over the control of all Belarusian gas pipelines.  Despite that, sometimes Belarus demonstrates its ambitions doesn’t follow Russia‘s rules of the game. 

20 years ago Belarusian energy system was rather efficient and innovative, and Lithuanian specialists sometimes used to share the experience of Belarusian experts. However, over the years the majority of energy objects became obsolete and today require reforms costing billions of US dollars. Besides, the neighbours want to reduce dependence on Russia‘s import, but so far the resistance of Belarus against Russia‘s influence was unsuccessful.  

Belarusian oil and gas sectors are most dependent on Russia. Oil to Mazyr and Navapolack oil refineries is delivered from Russia.  The most valuable product in these plants – automotive fuel – is appropriated by Russia, whereas Belarus retains recycling products (e.g. fuel oils) exported by the neighbours via the Klaipėda Seaport. By the way, several years ago Klaipėda accepted the tanker from Venezuela. It was an interesting political step, i.e. our neighbours tried to demonstrate that their oil refineries can receive raw materials not only from Russia; yet this didn’t result in a long-term cooperation between Belarus and Venezuela.

Regarding Belarusian energy, today major problems are related to gas. For quite a  long time Belarus could earn from transit of Russian gas to the EU, but in 2011 Belarus sold to Russia 50 percent share package of the national gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz and the international gas pipeline Yamal-Europe crossing the territory of Belarus. In exchange for that the price of gas supplied to Belarus has been reduced from 260 to 160 USD per 1000 m3. In the long-run this transaction might have fatal consequences for Belarus; we, Lithuanians, know that: a decade ago we gave Lithuanian Gas to the hands of Gazprom at a knock-down price and now pay for gas 500 USD/1000 m3. It would be too naive to hope that Belarus will experience a different scenario.

The same as Ukraine, we are also constructing a liquefied natural gas terminal. Belarusians who‘ve given their pipeline to Russia have lost the possibility to buy gas via our terminal or the terminal of Odessa though they could have significantly increased Belarusian energy independence. There were talks between Belarus and Lithuania on higher LNG terminal capacity, but talks remained inconclusive.

It is interesting to watch the increasing China‘s interest in Belarus and investment to Belarusian economy. First if all, Chinese invest their surplus funds to Belarus in order to increase influence in the state close to the EU. In Belarus China finances the construction of a combined-cycle gas turbine and enhancement of 330 kV transmission lines; purchases industrial companies and promises financial support for the nuclear energy project. Russia is not very happy about these processes but they provide more freedom and more opportunities to retain at least some independence. Which is better for Lithuania? More Russia in Belarus or more China in Belarus? This is a question for consideration.

Without any doubt, being member of the EU, Lithuania would prefer the EU‘s influence in Belarus. Not only because the neighbours could reach the sea via the KlaipedaPort but also because of the opportunity to cooperate in the energy sector. Initially Belarus was about to build its nuclear power plant in Mogilev region and launched an international competitive bid for the supplier of nuclear technology. If the tender was won not by Russia but by the U.S. or French company, Lithuania would have probably communicated with Belarus in the field of nuclear energy, and our nuclear energy plant Project would have also favoured from that.

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