Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Create Your Own Personal Bully

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Imagine you live in an apartment complex with a large courtyard. Your neighbors each have their individual personalities and habits and strong points, and the children play in their own groups: Some are friends with everyone, while there are others with whom some kids refuse to play altogether. There is also a bully whom hardly any of the other kids can stand and most try to ignore. He, on the other hand, spends his time annoying and picking on everyone.

Some of the kids tried to punish him by forbidding him to play in the sandbox, but this didn't help, because our young hooligan enjoyed the protection of one of the adults in the complex. This forbidding adult saw something of himself in the rough kid and regularly defended him -- right up to the point that our little hooligan became so sure of himself that he started throwing rocks at his protector's windows.

Our little hoodlum is a perfect analogy for Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose opposition to Moscow, which has led to another energy scandal with Europe, is clearly personal in nature. And Moscow, like the man in our story, has created a little monster with its own hands, not expecting he would answer their patronage with such ingratitude. But any hooligan thus protected will eventually decide that he can do whatever he pleases.

The Lukashenko phenomenon arose out of Russia's internal political uncertainty. Many among the elite still feel a sense of guilt over the disintegration of the Soviet Union and had put their hopes in a union between Russia and Belarus. While the project has yet to pan out, Russia continued to play the Lukashenko card, against an obstinate Ukraine and the West, for example.

Eventually, it became clear that opposition to the West had become a self-perpetuating leitmotif of Russian foreign policy. Lukashenko was handy here, as he gave voice to some of the things Russian politicians would have liked to have said to Brussels and Washington but were afraid to say themselves.

Lukashenko consistently received unreserved -- though unscrupulous -- support from Moscow. Right up to the end, Russia continued to defend this ally before the European Union, justifying the manipulation of elections, a fixed referendum and the trampling of its constitution. Moscow ignored the brutal methods Lukashenko used against any internal opposition. And the more the West criticized Russia's own handling of internal opposition, the more Russia's elite saw something positive in Lukashenko and his methods. It is as if he was the expression of its own pent up desires and hidden agendas.

The only thing missing was a personal rapport with President Vladimir Putin, who can't stand Lukashenko. The personal difficulties at the heart of the relationship were bound eventually to lead to conflict. Huge sums of money are at stake in this conflict. The Kremlin, increasingly caught up in the big energy game, asked itself why it was giving $5 billion in annual oil and gas subsidies to a country led by a disrespectful boor. So it doubled the gas price and slapped an export duty on its oil exports to Belarus of $180 per ton. Lukashenko, unaccustomed to having his ears boxed publicly by Russia, responded by imposing a transit fee of $45 per ton on Russian oil passing through Belarus to Europe.

In this case, Belarus and Russia are more or less the same for Europe. The squabble actually arose about the same time EU members began referring to the "Lukashenkovization" of Russia. Europe is not likely to have much sympathy in an affair where the quarrel with Lukashenko appears more personal than based on principal.

Differentiating between good or bad neighbors is not a basis for effective foreign policy. Applying the same standards across the board makes more sense than a form of authoritarian imperialism that depends on the will of the potentate.

Georgy Bovt is editor of Profil magazine.