On New Year's Eve, the Miseries of Minsk

VIKTOR DRACHEV / AFP-GETTY IMAGES

COLD WAR: Belarus shivered as Russia threatened fuel supplies

Just half an hour into 2007, the mood among Andrei Sannikov's guests is somber. They crowd around the television in his apartment in the Belarusan capital, Minsk, to watch a news bulletin that interrupts the usual festive programming. "We have signed a new natural gas supply contract on unfavorable terms," announces Belarusan Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky. Sannikov, a former member of the government and now an opposition activist in the country memorably described by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "the last true dictatorship" in Europe, interprets the statement for his guests. "Russia has given itself a New Year's present...

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