Surely was good of Gazprom to wait until immediately after Lukashenko was elected to press Belarus for a price increase. It couldn't have been political, could it?
Now that Lukashenko will remain in power for 5-years and the smoke has settled from the Belarus elections, we now see the kid gloves coming off.
An official at Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly hinted that a New Year face-off over gas prices with Ukraine, which led to a temporary supply drop to Europe, could be repeated if neighboring Belarus does not agree this year to a threefold price hike.Gazprom negotiation = Pay. Now. Or else.
Pro-Moscow Belarus is the only ex-Soviet republic relying on Russian gas that did not get a gas price hike from Moscow last year. It now pays the rock-bottom price of roughly US$47 (euro38) per 1,000 cubic meters.
Gazprom is asking for a minimum hike to US$145 (euro116) per thousand cubic meters of natural gas for 2007, said Sergei Kuprianov, OAO Gazprom's top spokesman.
"I wouldn't want to celebrate the New Year in a car or in the office," Kuprianov said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station, referring to the spat with Ukraine that escalated through December and ended with supplies being cut to Ukraine on Jan. 1.
"The reason we are starting the talks now (with Belarus) is so that we can complete them in good time," Kuprianov said.
And again, for those who feel "the West" makes a big deal out of these price increases, it isn't the question of the increases. Russia™ - that is Gazprom - is asking for market prices. Rather, it is the methods and timing that smacks of brute force and political manipulation. It isn't even a subtle sort of thing that leads to conspiracy theories months and years later - it is rather flagrant.