Written by Bruce Pannier
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Belarus on October 16 promising President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that Venezuela could fill Belarus's oil refineries "for the next 200 years."
The Venezuelan leader, whose policies have angered Washington, has been courting ties with countries similarly at odds with the United States.
In recent months, Belarus's usually strong ties with Russia have been strained, in large part due to Belarus's dependency on Moscow for energy supplies.
At a meeting of representatives of the two nations at the Belarusian president's residence, Lukashenka thanked Chavez and pledged Belarus's support for the Venezuelan people.
"Dear Hugo, I would like to thank you once again for the immense help which you [Venezuela] are giving the Belarusian people at this hard time," Lukashenka said.
"Remember you told me once, 'Rely on us.' Everything we can, everything we are able to do, and we can do much, we are ready to do for the Venezuelan people to express our gratitude for what you have done for us."
Chavez promised his country would supply Belarus with some 30 million tons of oil over a three-year period, starting in 2011. The deal is worth an estimated $19.4 billion.
Chavez said he was aware of the current energy problems Belarus faces and that "the refineries of Belarus will not lack petrol for the next 200 years."
Tense Relations With Russia
Chavez was alluding to the problems Belarus has faced with its traditional energy supplier, Russia.
For years Russia has been exporting gas and oil to Belarus at a lower price than that on world markets. But Moscow has complained that Belarus was selling off excess Russian natural gas and oil to neighboring countries at world market prices.
Russia drastically cut the amount of gas it ships to Belarus in June, a move that alarmed some political leaders further west in Europe. Part of the pipeline network that supplies Russian gas to consumers in the European Union runs through Belarus.
Minsk has cut back on the amount of Russian oil it purchases since Russia imposed export duties, hiking the price by some 36 percent.
Russia has said it is working to find a compromise with Belarus and ease concerns in Europe. On October 15, the eve of Chavez's visit to Belarus, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on the state gas company Gazprom to reach a deal with Belarus for gas supplies through 2015.
At the meeting with Lukashenka on October 16, Chavez said his country's oil tankers could bring supplies to the Baltic and Black seas, where it could be unloaded and make relatively short trips by truck or rail to Belarus.
Chavez also took time to wish Lukashenka good luck in December's presidential election, though Chavez made clear he did not believe Lukashenka needed any luck. "The victory which you will gain in December, we are absolutely sure about it. We can start celebrating this victory right now," Chavez said.
Chavez arrived in Belarus after visiting Russia. His five-country tour takes the Venezuelan president to Ukraine next, then on to Iran and Syria.
By. Bruce Pannier