Belarusian Energy Disputes Spills Over into Customs

The energy conflict between Russia and Belarus has now become an obstacle to the formation a Customs Union among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Belarus wants the rates on all export duties under the program conciliated among all members of the union. Russia is strongly opposed to that suggestion. Kazakhstan proposes making a list of "sensitive" goods to be conciliated.

The fourth session of the Eurasian Economic Community Financial and Economic Policy Council met on Friday in Kazan. Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref was in attendance. The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed to form a customs union at their informal summit in Sochi in August of last year. However, EAEC general secretary Gregory Rapota reports that 8 of the 24 documents drafted for the formation of the union have yet to be agreed upon.

Other controversial Belarusian demands are for "nondiscriminatory access to goods made and sold by a natural monopoly," which Russia also opposes. Kazakhstan has not sided with either of its partners. Chief Deutsche UFG economist Yaroslav Lisovolik explained Russia's position as its desire "to maintain an instrument of discipline in relations within the union." Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Naryshkin will take up the issue at the next meeting of the EAEC in Astana April 18.

Naryshkin was charged with overseeing foreign economic activity by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February of this year. He has assured the president that the Customs Union will begin functioning in June of this year.