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New Year’s Blues in Minsk

Time Magazine has done a short piece on the Gas Wars between Russia and Belarus. belarus0115.jpg Excerpts:

Just half an hour into 2007, the mood among Andrei Sannikov’s guests is somber. They crowd around the television in his apartment in the Belarusan capital, Minsk, to watch a news bulletin that interrupts the usual festive programming. “We have signed a new natural gas supply contract on unfavorable terms,” announces Belarusan Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky. Sannikov, a former member of the government and now an opposition activist in the country memorably described by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “the last true dictatorship” in Europe, interprets the statement for his guests. “Russia has given itself a New Year’s present by making its grab of the Belarusan economy official,” he says. “What the U.S.S.R. sought to do with tanks, Russia is now achieving with pipelines.” … As the state television returned to scenes of seasonal revelry, Sannikov’s guests swapped predictions of how the situation would play out. Most anticipated that Lukashenko will cut subsidies that have kept Belarus’ decaying industries and Soviet-style collective farms afloat. Vladimir Khalip, a Belarusan writer and documentary filmmaker, didn’t think this would be enough to save the regime. “Now, its collapse is inevitable, come May or June,” he said. Such forecasts have proved wrong in the past, but on one point there was consensus: there wasn’t much that was happy about this New Year in Belarus.