IN OTHER WORDS: Hard lesson

Some of the world’s major energy companies are learning a hard lesson about President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It is the same lesson that Putin’s political opponents have absorbed, along with independent journalists, human rights activists, and certain oligarchs who fell afoul of the plutocratic KGB veterans who form Putin’s inner circle. Royal Dutch Shell and its Japanese partners, the Mitsui and Mitsubishi companies, learned it when they were forced to sell a majority share in Sakhalin-2, the world’s largest combined oil and natural gas development project, to the state-controlled Russian company Gazprom.

Shell and its partners were made to understand that the only way out was to let Gazprom purchase 50 per cent plus one share of Sakhalin-2. Western Europe shivered last winter when Russia, for political reasons, reduced natural gas shipments in a pipeline traversing Ukraine.

And just this past week, Gazprom warned Poland, Lithuania, and Germany that natural gas deliveries could be interrupted because of a nasty quarrel with Belarus about the rates the Kremlin wants its erstwhile ally to pay. The price for Belarus is being raised because of political differences between Putin’s cronies and the regime of Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.