Lukashenka's gray market scheme to bypass sanctions. Will he sell part of Mazyr refinery to Azerbaijan?

Alyaksandr Lukashenka allowed himself to fly abroad for two days. In the last eight months after the election, he flew only to Vladimir Putin.

Baku had everything the dictator likes: a reception at the state level and a lot of attention. Together with Ilham Aliyev, he signed a pile of documents on cooperation in agriculture. However, did the Belarusian dictator fly to Baku just for that? What kind of gray market scheme could they be talking about? How possible is it to circumvent sanctions against Belarus through Baku? Can Lukashenka sell a part of the Mazyr oil refinery to the Azerbaijani company SOCAR? Former acting President of Azerbaijan Isa Gember, political scientist Valer Karbalevich and analyst of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future Ihar Tyshkevich comment.

The dictator’s first foreign visit since the election, except for pleas to Putin, was in Baku. The first evening was an informal meeting with Aliyev, which lasted for five hours. Wasn’t is too much for a nice greeting? It is likely that it was during this meeting that the main issues were resolved.

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Valer Karbalevich, political scientist, Minsk:

“This visit is psychologically important for Lukashenka. After all, many European countries do not recognise him as president, as head of state. Therefore, it is important for him to prove to the Belarusian society, the Belarusian nomenklatura, perhaps to some foreign subjects, that he is recognised in the world at all. That he is a normal full-fledged president, and he has taken the situation in Belarus under such control that he can leave for a few days on an official visit without fear of something happening here.”

The agenda of the talks is self-evident: Belarusian weapons in exchange for Azerbaijani oil. It is no secret that Azerbaijan was able to defeat Armenia in the Second Karabakh War at the end of last year partly thanks to the products of the Belarusian military-industrial complex. That is why Baku is now primarily interested in Belarusian-made air defense and radar weapons, as well as missile technology – the modernisation of Polonaise to operational and tactical missile system with a range of up to 500 kilometres.

The former acting President of Azerbaijan Isa Gember, head of the National Centre for Strategic Thinking, comments:

“There are both common and personal interests here. Naturally, it is easier for authoritarian leaders to find common ground with each other than for a democratically elected president with an authoritarian leader. This is one side of the issue. On the other hand, there are interests. For example, Belarus requires oil products and buys them in Azerbaijan. And, apparently, Azerbaijan is a good partner for Belarus in this area.”

This was emphasized by the illegitimate leader of Belarus himself:

“I am very grateful to you for your support in supplying hydrocarbons to Belarus. We may need to consider deepening our relations in this area.”

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According to previously reached agreements, the Azerbaijani state company SOCAR will supply 1 million tons of oil to Belarus this year. However, why discuss what has long been resolved? Therefore, most likely, it was about the possibility of using the Azerbaijani company to circumvent possible sanctions against Belarusian state-owned companies by the United States and the European Union.

Ihar Tyshkevich, expert of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, Kyiv:

“Naturally, when it comes to the export of oil products, it is clearly not about the sale of SOCAR Belarusian products on Belarusian territory. This is about working for third markets. And here we mention the political deterioration of relations with the European Union, Lukashenka’s potential desire to intimidate with such a “whip” of oil products, Russia’s desire to drag part of the transit to its ports, which partly succeeded. But if SOCAR comes into play, it can sell some Belarusian oil products through its network under its own name.”

This network is not small and is present both in Ukraine and, for example, in Austria and Switzerland. Here is a ready-made method to outwit the authors of sanctions. Though it will not look very good if such a scheme is suddenly exposed.

Isa Gember, Head of the National Centre for Strategic Thinking, Azerbaijan:

“It will be quite difficult for the Azerbaijani authorities if there are real sanctions against Belarus. But whether the Azerbaijani authorities will be able to overcome these sanctions will depend not on Minsk or Baku, but on Brussels, Washington and other centres.”

But there are options. Experts do not rule out that in the current economic situation Lukashenka plans to sell a part of the Mazyr oil refinery to Azerbaijan.

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Ihar Tyshkevich, expert of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future, Kyiv:

“There is already a part of the Russian share capital in Mazyr. It may be quite interesting to sell the same or larger part to Azerbaijan as a counterweight, leaving a small share to oneself. Let me remind you how the Russian capital was allowed in Mazyr: it was expected that if the Russians themselves are partial owners, they will provide steady supplies of raw materials.”

It turns out that you can kill two birds with one stone: to avoid sanctions, and to balance Russia’s influence in oil supplies in a natural way.

There were also scandalous statements during this visit. Thus, Lukashenka congratulated Azerbaijan and Armenia on the end of the Second Karabakh War. It’s interesting what Yerevan thought about it, but the illegitimate leader of Belarus has an absolutely specific interest here.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated:

“As a true friend of the Belarusian people, you understand that there is still a lot of work ahead. Hard work, peaceful work to recreate life in the returned territories. And you should know that Belarus is your reliable friend.”

Isa Gember, head of the National Centre for Strategic Thinking:

“The affairs in the returned territories are, of course, very important for Azerbaijan, but the amount of work for Azerbaijan there is large. However, this does not mean that there is a very great need for foreign aid. Besides, European countries, Turkey and many other countries promise this help. In this sense, Azerbaijan has a choice. It is considered not only as a business, but as a concession of Azerbaijan to different countries – to give a share to participate in the reconstruction work.”

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Lukashenka has a very good prospect here. And it is not just about the possibility of exporting products of Belarusian engineering and other large industries. We can talk about construction and other works by companies from Belarus, which will pay taxes to the state budget.

Ihar Tyshkevich, expert of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future:

“It allows, on the one hand, to keep the companies and people, and on the other hand, to give them work. What is more: if a Belarusian enterprise works, it mostly works on Belarusian equipment and with the maximum amount of Belarusian materials.”

Thus, the plan of the illegitimate leader of Belarus to cooperate with official Baku looks quite promising. Which is not surprising: as they say, birds of a feather flock together.

Dzmitry Mitskevich for the program PraSviet (World and Us) from 15.04.2021

Photos used in collage: Metzel Mikhail / TASS / Forum; Alexei Nikolsky / TASS / Forum