From Alexander Arkhangelsky on Russia Profile:
What’s the point here? The point is that the oil and gas spat that blew up between Russia and Belarus on the eve of 2007 could have produced some entirely unexpected psychological consequences. Comrade Alexander Lukashenko answered Gazprom’s cheerful arrogance with buffoonery – buffoonery that was, moreover, aimed not at Gazprom, but at a certain someone higher up. A duty on oil transit, issues of Russian property in Belarus, payment for the land the pipes run across… The hard-headed Lukashenko resorts to this only when he feels a threat to himself personally, and not only to the economy entrusted to him. So the deal done just before New Year’s had something that bypassed the radars of financial analysts – its own political subcurrent. And the Belarusian leader’s position of power suddenly appeared unbelievably shaky; so shaky, in fact, that he had nothing to lose. If Gazprom – and the person above Gazprom – had genuinely gotten angry and/or decided that they no longer needed Lukashenko, then he would not have survived. He would have fallen without even the slightest chance of playing out his hand. The question of ORT cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, beaten up by Belarusian police, could suddenly have surfaced, or the shadow of Goncharov, the vanished member of the central elections commission. The issue of removing political opponents would have been on the negotiating table as a trump card. The topics of the journalist Georgy Gongadze and poisoned Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko were used thus as trump cards during the dramatic 2004 elections in Ukraine. Moreover, they were used simultaneously by two opposing sides – the European Union thereby convinced Leonid Kuchma to give in, while Russia tried to inspire him – there’s nowhere to retreat, Moscow’s behind you. And it is unimportant who actually poisoned or disappeared whom; it is of no importance that the chekist Andrei Lugovoi – now suspected in the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko – headed the ORT security service when Zavadsky disappeared. Only one thing is important: We’ve had enough, so clear off.