Shutting Off the Heat in Belarus

The Washington Post has an editorial on Putin’s annual winter punishment for Belarus:

Of course, Mr. Putin and his spokesmen insist that this is merely a commercial dispute that involves ending Russian subsidies. That’s also what they said last January, when Russia shut down gas supplies to Ukraine and then to all of Europe; and in January 2007, when the pipeline to Belarus was closed down; and in January 2006, when there was a previous interruption in gas supplies to Ukraine. Last week, as he did last year, Mr. Putin showily summoned a minister to publicly “report” to him on the conflict — so there would be no mistake about who in Moscow was managing the matter.

Mr. Putin hasn’t given up his dream of restoring Moscow’s dominion over the countries of the former Soviet Union — though, intriguingly, the man he installed as Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, recently denounced what he called “chaotic” foreign policies “dictated by nostalgia and prejudice.” For the most part, the heavy-handed tactics have badly backfired. Ukraine may soon elect a president more to Moscow’s liking, but it remains an independent democracy. Meanwhile, not just Belarus but also countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and even Turkmenistan are scrambling to make friends with the West or with China.

For their part, Western European countries that depend on Russia for energy supplies have just gotten their annual winter wake-up call. Thirty-five percent of Germany’s oil imports flow through the Belarus pipeline. Anyone in the German government who still believes Russia can be counted on for those supplies must spend January in the tropics.