Earlier this year a Time Magazine reporter coined the phrase “Gazprom always wins” – a mantra which is proving to be no different this week as the Russians dragged Belarus toward the brink of yet another natural gas supply cut off. As suspected, Alexander Lukashenko eventually gave in to Gazprom’s demand that Belarus cover their outstanding debt, but he didn’t do so quietly – after accusing Russia of attempting to seize control of the Belarusian economy, Lukashenko told the television media “I also was given a tip that I had to go to the Kremlin and kneel down. I won’t go and I won’t kneel.” According to the Moscow Times report:
Lukashenko, until recently a close Kremlin ally, has been unhappy about Russia raising prices for oil and gas supplies to Belarus at the start of the year. In February, he raised a transit duty on Russian oil going to Europe across his country by more than 30 percent. “Today I gave an order to take the money from our reserves and pay $460 million,” Lukashenko told reporters Thursday in Minsk. “Of course, we are draining reserves but our good friends, and Hugo Chavez in particular, announced they were ready to extend a loan on advantageous terms,” Lukashenko said, Interfax reported. Western banks, he added, were also ready to help out. Anti-U.S. allies Lukashenko and Chavez have forged close ties recently, with Chavez calling the Belarussian leader a “brother-in-arms” on his latest trip to Minsk, last month.
Lukashenko calls Chavez his “brother in arms” literally, not just figuratively. The two countries do about $1 billion trade in arms.