Install

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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When 2 Trucks Collide

On New Year's Eve, Russia managed to avoid an international scandal by reaching an agreement with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, whereby Belarus will pay Gazprom $100 per thousand cubic meters of natural gas. At first, it seemed that Belarus had caved in to pressure in the negotiations. But then it announced it was raising fees for Russian oil piped across Belarus in direct proportion to the increase in the gas price. The $45 per ton for the transit of Russian oil means an additional $4.5 billion annually to be paid by Russia.

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 oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

For this we can congratulate Lukashenko. For many years he has followed the example of England's Queen Elizabeth I perfectly: She never intended to marry, but her threat to do so was England's greatest foreign policy weapon. The relationship between Belarus and Russia is like that of a parasite: While not part of the organism, the worm still lives off of it.

It is interesting that Lukashenko and Putin appear to share no affinity for each other. In 2003, Putin nearly ordered the cutoff of gas supplies to Belarus before Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, realizing the move would hurt Russia's reputation in the West, put a stop to the conflict. Kasyanov was forced to resign his post a few days later.

And the language Lukashenko has used in connection with Russia during this blowup hasn't been heard even from U.S. President George W. Bush or Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Yet despite the personal antagonism between the two, Putin continues to put up with and even protect Lukashenko. In the same way, Tsar Nicholas I attempted to avert revolution in the 19th century by supporting other monarchical regimes in the spirit of authoritarian solidarity, even though those regimes usually repaid the tsar with geopolitical ingratitude.

Gazprom has normalized its gas prices for the CIS. This is a welcome move for Gazprom, but it is worth noting that all of the countries the Kremlin branded as agents of the United States, like Georgia, or else punished for complicity with agents of the United States, like Azerbaijan, reacted to the new prices in a rational way. They didn't complain to the United Nations or NATO, nor did they raise their voices or threaten retaliatory measures. "This price is unfair," said Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, "but we agree to it."

And the one country the Kremlin views as an agent neither of the United States nor of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency -- Belarus -- has shown its worst side in this spat. "You want to charge us $100 dollars per cubic meter of gas," they seem to say, "then we'll charge you an extra $4.5 billion per year for the transit of your oil."

Most CIS countries are governed by responsible leaders who conduct themselves according to generally accepted norms of political behavior, despite the Kremlin's contention that they are all infected with the "orange plague." But in Belarus, Russia must deal with a little tyrant who resorts to offensive language in response to Gazprom's terms. The Belarussian leadership, while attempting to maintain a privileged energy relationship with Russia, is also mortally afraid that an orange revolution might follow should its state-sponsored economy fail.

Thus, Russia's KamAZ truck has run head-on into Belarus' BelAZ truck. The BelAZ, of course, ended up with a dented bumper and lost its headlights in the collision, but still managed to come away with a cool $4.5 billion in transit fees for Russian oil.

Belarus' tactics are, after all, nothing but a mirror image of those already employed by Russia. So whom can we blame if we don't like the reflection we see?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.