Ever since Russia briefly interrupted natural gas deliveries to Ukraine on New Year's Day 2006, Moscow has been harshly criticized in the West for allegedly using energy as a tool to blackmail its neighbors. The recent spat between Russia and Belarus over Moscow's price hike on oil and gas deliveries to Minsk once again prompted charges from Western politicians and pundits that Russia is not a reliable source of energy. But where many Westerners perceive Russia as a regional bully, the Kremlin argues that former Soviet republics are not entitled to cheap Russian energy simply because Russia's major export pipelines cross their territory.
Russian commentators have complained in the last several weeks about how Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has sought to transform his country's image in the West from an authoritarian pariah state into yet another victim of Russia's "energy imperialism." Russians ask: Why does the West criticize Russia for subsidizing Lukashenko, and then criticize us for stopping these subsidies? And how exactly does the West expect us to get countries like Belarus or Ukraine off the dole without threatening to shut off gas supplies? Russians scoff at the idea that Lukashenko would ever agree to price increases that could threaten his grip on power simply because the European Union presented him with a polite request. ...
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