Republic of Lukashenko
In Sunday’s presidential elections in Belarus, the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claimed an overwhelming victory and secured his fifth term in office. This was hardly surprising — over two decades of one-man rule, political opposition has been eliminated, society has turned apathetic, and elections have become a farce. But the recent ballot was far from meaningless: Lukashenko expects the West to nod favorably at his re-election and to lend his regime long-denied international acceptance. And chances are that he will score that prize.
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Relations between Belarus and the West have long been strained. The EU and the U.S. have responded to Lukashenko’s ever-more dictatorial rule with political isolation and sanctions, typically tightened following rigged elections and egregious repression of opponents. For the most part, Belarus could withstand those punitive measures, given the unwavering political and financial sponsoring it received from Russia. Only when the Kremlin made unacceptable demands on its smaller neighbor, be it the handover of key assets or the subordination to its hegemony, did Belarus seek to strike a balance. It suggested rapprochement with the West and played at a little liberalization. But Belarus has been known to pull back again quickly and drastically, most recently in 2010, when Lukashenko stomped out dissent more brutally than ever, leaving the West flabbergasted.