Belarus on the brink

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his son Nikolai on a state visit to Moscow
In the autumn of his rule, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has taken to making state visits with Nikolai (L), his 12-year-old son and heir apparent (source: dpa)
  • Economic crisis and Russian pressure may soon bring down Alexander Lukashenko
  • Moscow has lost patience with Belarusian dictator’s attempts to play off east and west
  • With the opposition too weak to stage a Ukrainian-style revolt, a Russian-sponsored coup is most likely

The European Union announced it would lift sanctions against Belarus in October 2015. Most of the restrictions were no longer in effect by February 2016, except for an arms embargo and a travel ban on four individuals accused of involvement in the murder of opposition activists. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski referred to these measures as “an experiment.”

What they really amounted to was an admission of defeat. Years of Western sanctions had virtually no effect on Belarus; President Alexander Lukashenko merely waited them out.

The Belarusian dictator may have less success surviving his country’s current economic and social problems, however. Twenty-two years of Mr. Lukashenko’s rule has turned Belarus into the odd man out in Europe. In the terminology of political science, we have a textbook case of authoritarianism with numerous vestiges of the Soviet system deep in the heart of the continent.

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