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BBC Monitoring Service: Russian economist backs Belarus in gas row

Published: Dec 28, 2006

SAKHALIN II PSA: EXTRACT: ‘Delyagin alleged that the deal was murky and could discredit Shell if investigated properly. ‘

The director of the Moscow-based Institute of Problems of Globalization, Mikhail Delyagin, has sharply criticized Gazprom’s decision to raise the price for Russian gas exported to Belarus 4.3-fold from 1 January 2007.

“The only thing our government has on its mind is cash,” Delyagin said in a live interview broadcast by Ekho Moskvy radio on 28 December. “These people have learnt no lesson” from the gas conflict with Ukraine in the beginning of 2006, he went on to say. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will simply start to siphon off gas intended for Europe. It would be easier for Minsk than it was for Kiev, because Lukashenka, unlike the present Russian or Ukrainian leadership, “does not need a house on Sardinia or in Paris but fights for the interests of his country,” he said.

Belarus, like all other CIS states, would not survive if it starts paying for gas at world prices, Delyagin said. “We shall create a zone of chaos like that we have already created in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. We shall do to Belarus the same things the Americans did to Iraq. A social disaster will happen [there], and we shall face consequences in the form of mass migration and growing aggressiveness and hatred towards Russians,” he said.

Delyagin believes that Russia should not leave the CIS to itself. “I want to see a strong pro-Russian lobby brought up on Russian money on those territories. So we should not make their situation intolerable and let them die,” he said.

Delyagin made it clear that the Kremlin was fully responsible for Gazprom policy. “[Aleksey] Miller is Gazprom’s CEO, but I would be greatly surprised if he insisted on making strategic decisions,” he said.

Russia should envy Belarus’s “non-corrupt KGB, the normal economic policy which enables the country to survive without petrodollars and more even distribution of national wealth,” Delyagin said. He praised Lukashenka’s economic policy which helped Belarus to keep afloat its manufacturing sector, especially the textile industry. “For residents of St Petersburg Belarus is associated with garments,” he said. At the same time he admitted that “Lukashenka is not a democrat and did many wrong things, so in the eyes of Europe there is little difference between him and Saddam Husayn”.

The life standards in Belarus are higher than those in Russia, so the Russian leadership decided to bring them down by raising gas tariffs in order to avoid unpleasant comparisons, Delyagin said. Another reason to raise gas prices was “the deficit of gas Russia is already facing due to the ineffective management of Gazprom”. The next step will be raising domestic prices, he said.

The third reason was just greed, he said.

Commenting on the accusations of involvement with Aleksandr Litvinenko’s poisoning death recently brought by the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office against Russian emigre tycoon and former Yukos co-owner Leonid Nevzlin, Delyagin said Nevzlin reminds him of the main character of a famous Soviet comedy film, who got drunk and next day was accused of ruining a 14-century chapel. The phrase: “Did I also ruin the chapel?” has become a Russian idiom for absurd accusations.

“Nothing can discredit Russia even further after the Litvinenko case,” he said.

The last topic of the discussion was the recent Sakhalin-2 deal between Shell and Gazprom.

“Shell is very lucky” to get off cheaply, Delyagin said. He described the production sharing agreement signed in 1994 as “fettering” and “colonial-style”. Delyagin alleged that the deal was murky and could discredit Shell if investigated properly. He claimed that Russia could easily declare it legally nil and void. “Shell would not strike the [Gazprom] deal if its conditions were unreasonable,” he concluded by saying.

Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 0812 gmt 28 Dec 06

BBC Monitoring

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