"Belarus will make all efforts towards returning Ukrainian-Russian relations to brotherly and good neighbourly ones, helping find options to settle all the existing contradictions and preventing armed confrontation," said the Belarusian Foreign Minstry on Wednesday.
This outbreak of reasonableness may have been prompted by the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing campaign to grab eastern Ukraine, across which runs a major Russian gas pipeline towards Turkey and (via the future South Stream spur) to Western Europe.
But it may also have to do with a sense that the game is up for the gas (and oil - see above map) bandits of eastern Europe. Yevhen Bakulin, the chairman of the Ukrainian national gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy, has just been arrested for corruption.
Four years ago, the President of the Ukraine claimed that his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had driven the company into insolvency in order to forge a closer cooperation with Russia.
At the same time (2010), Vladimir Socor commented on Jamestown.org:
"In Belarus, however, the presumably Russia-oriented president Alyaksandr Lukashenka has all along resisted Russian control of the oil processing plants and transit pipelines. The Kremlin is arm-twisting Belarus by shifting oil transit volumes into the Baltic Pipelines Sytem (BPS), which circumvents Belarus to reach Russian Baltic ports for tanker transportation to Europe. Similarly, Russia threatens to bypass Ukraine’s gas transit system by laying pipelines on the seabed of the Baltic and Black seas. Moscow uses the threat of circumvention to pressure Belarus and Ukraine into sharing control of their oil and gas sectors, respectively, with Russian companies. In that eventuality, Russia would presumably maintain the supply and transit flows by overland pipelines through Belarus and Ukraine.
"While the threat of bypassing Ukraine through the Baltic and Black Sea is hardly credible, the circumvention of Belarus is credible and indeed in progress through BPS Phase One, which is already operational, and the incipient construction of BPS Phase Two. The pressure is now growing through the threat of abolishing oil subsidies to Belarus, following Minsk’s attempts to improve its relations with the EU."
It's the old story. Middlemen taking "protection money" from traders in transit, whether it be exotic fabrics along the Silk Route or the ancient, Brittany-bound exports of Irish copper and gold across the Cornish peninsula that made King Arthur's court so wealthy.
Sadly for us who like the idea of democracy, it takes an autarch to beat the oligarchs into submission. Putin is taming Belarus and Ukraine by a combination of muscle and (with the threat of Nord and South Stream pipeline developments) Thatcherian "competitionanchoice". At least he appears to be acting broadly in his nation's interests, unlike the treacherous claques of Westminster.
There is a passage I recall from a biography of Armand Hammer, where the American entrepreneur was transporting much-needed pencillin by rail into Soviet Russia. At one rural station, the train was delayed by an official looking for a certain consideration. A telephone call was put through to Stalin, the man was shot, the train moved on.
Putin may not be a nice man, but he is, to use Mario Puzo's words, a "reasonable man". This is business. as Hyman Roth said:
"I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen; I didn't ask who gave the order, because it had nothing to do with business!"
If you want the luxury of freedom, be prepared to turn off your gas and electricity.
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