In the Belarusian mentality, Russia is not only its closest ally but perhaps the only ally: the majority of Belarusians estimate low the friendliness of other countries towards Belarus. In addition, most of the so-called friends are situated far from Belarus (like China and Kazakhstan) and don’t raise great sympathy, unlike Russia.

Also, it is widely believed among Belarusians that this partnership puts obligations on Russia, this is why in a situation of a serious dispute or a conflict with its powerful neighbor, and ally the Belarusians feel right and abused by Russia which doesn’t meet its obligations. What’s more, despite its “loneliness with Russia” Belarusian mentality doesn’t feel defenseless in such conflicts.

All these phenomena were found in opinion polls conducted in winter-spring of 2004 during the gas conflict which was so hot that they even fully stopped gas transportation to Belarus for several hours on February 18. As a result of this confrontation, Belarusians took deep offence at Russia instead of realizing dependence of their national economy. There was no increase of pro-Russian moods like “We will die without Russia” but instead certain freezing of pro-Russian moods which soon came back to their usual level though.

In 2006, new conditions of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, were announced in advance. Certainly, rare nations would agree that many-fold rise in prices for an imported vital resource is a fair thing, be such increase even economically grounded. As data of Table 1 show, Belarusians aren’t such rarity despite their pro-Russian feelings – the majority of them share the opinion that Russia has moral obligations to Belarus which are measured from economic perspective. What’s more, a slight majority believes that taking into account all the Union State relations it is possible that counter-claims will persuade Russia to fulfill these obligations (See Table 2).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “Head of Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom A. Miller stated in late March that starting from 2007 Belarus will have to buy gas at European prices, i.e. pay fivefold more than presently. What do you think about this demand?”

Variant of answer


It is fair. Any product should be paid for as much as it costs


It is unfair. Belarus is Russia’s closest ally, and Russia shouldn’t demand that Belarus pays for gas at the same prices like other countries




Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “How do you think should Belarus respond to Russia’s demand to buy gas at European prices?”

Variant of answer


Demand that Russia pays more for transit, for its military targets and other services which Belarus renders to Russia


Persuade Russia not to increase prices for its ally




Yet, over 40% of respondents say that tough bargaining is not appropriate – either because they don’t want to aggravate conflict with Russia or because of fear that Belarus can simply lose in a rigid confrontation. This balance of estimates reveals that there isn’t full solidarity of public opinion on this issue.

It should be noted that unlike in 2004 current statements of Gazprom’s Heads haven’t yet taken the look of a large-scale propaganda war. In April, Belarusian state-run mass media continued after-election struggle and didn’t give proper attention to Russia’s crafty designs. On the contrary, importance of the demands laid by Gazprom was rather diminished. They were presented as statements of insignificant persons or rather as a beginning of a bargain the final result of which would be much more favorable for Belarus.

Therefore, the data in Tables 1 and 2 reflect the public opinion free of propaganda influence, the opinion built before active explanations were given about how to understand Mr. Miller’s surprise.

On the other hand, this is only absence of specially aimed attitude while powerful indoctrination during the election campaign as well as the image of strong power and strong country which doesn’t kneel before the East or the West built by the state-run mass media indirectly influenced April estimates of Gazprom’s proposals given by respondents. Data in Table 3 once again illustrates this.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “Which of the statements below do you agree with?”

Variant of answer


Belarus is a self-sufficient country. Its economy will survive even if prices for gas rise to the European level


If Russia takes prices for gas to the European level for Belarus, the Belarusian economy will collapse




It is obvious that opinions split almost equally here, and nearly a half of respondents think that a sudden rise in prices will end up in a catastrophe.

Table 4 reflects to all appearances a cumulative one-way influence of a number of factors – concerns about a possible loss of national sovereignty as well as anti-market attitudes strengthened by state-run informational policy.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “In your opinion, on what conditions can Belarus sell its gas transportation and supply enterprise Beltransgaz?”

Variant of answer


Under no circumstances they should sell Beltransgaz


They could sell it at market prices




As one can see, consensus is almost unilateral on this issue. However, this greatly cuts freedom of maneuver for the Belarusian authorities – sale of Beltransgaz perhaps vital and inevitable from economic viewpoint is unacceptable or at least very dangerous from the political viewpoint. The authorities can be publicly condemned for “selling its native land” even if they sell Beltransgaz at the best price indeed.

It should be noted though that Russia-Belarus conflicts and disputes were and are a virtual phenomenon for the majority of Belarusians both in 2004 and now – stoppage of gas transportation for several hours didn’t affect temperature of central heating in people’s apartments. As of now, this cannot happen at least till January of 2007. In such a situation, the general audience can decide that it is entirely possible, as they say, to eat cake (i.e. low prices on gas) and have it (in this case, not to lose Beltransgaz).

Such mentality to a great extent owes to the mass media for such a nice understanding. Yet, their populism creates an unpleasant fork both for the public and the authorities if the gas conflict goes from a virtual dimension into the real. It will be hard to fight up to the last ditch as half of the population is not ready to such a scenario and it will not be easier to sell out Beltransgaz as an overwhelming majority of the population stands against this.