NYT reports that Russia turned off the gas pipeline to Belarus yesterday. If this was the “Druzhba” pipeline that the Russians have often used to block delivery to Ukraine in the past, it would be a darkly funny development since “druzhba” means “friendship” in Russian and Russia will have by now used this supposed friendship-pipeline to have starved perhaps its two most closely related East Slavic brothers of gas. The interesting thing is that stopping to delivery to Ukraine made sense at the time; Ukraine was threatening to break out of the post-Soviet orbit and go over to the West. But Belarus? The least-reformed post-Soviet state, led by Aleksandr “Uncle Luk” Lukashenko, the last dictator in Europe, the man too lazy to rename his secret police anything other than KGB, the man who promotes Russian over Belarusian at any chance, and most importantly, the man who helped create the Union State of Russia and Belarus and once seemed to welcome Belarus’s reannexation in to Russia? Color me shocked.
Interestingly enough, it’s this last bit, the Union of Russia and Belarus, that seems to be causing the trouble:
The decision arises in a tendentious political context, as President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko refused to sign off on the customs union with Russia and Kazakhstan, to Russia’s south.
In protest of Russian oil tariffs, Belarus has refused to sign off on the start of the customs union, which Moscow created in 1991 in hopes of forging a permanent economic alliance of post-Soviet countries.
Ah-ha. So Russia wants Belarus to accede to the customs union and is going to hold their feet to the fire by withholding gas until they do. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing for Belarus that the article indicates European demand for gas is much lower in summer, so the Europeans will presumably have less incentive to mediate on behalf of the Belarusians as they did for the Ukrainians in the depths of winter.