Belarusian President Wants to be European Nazarbayev?

Why, really, should he change anything, according to his Realpolitik logic, well-known to any observers of politics in developing countries. Belarusian leader wants to be treated in the West at least as good as Nazarbayev, Aliyev or Karimov, which have undoubtedly worse, even shocking human rights and democracy records but have now almost no major troubles with the West. They are too important for the world power centers to be criticized. So wants to be also Belarusian leadership, and Lukashenka particularly emphasized the importance of his country for the West in his last interview.

 

He elaborated on it

So what, do other nations, our partners in Eastern Partnership, have no such problems as Belarus? Hey, they have even more. Why do you treat them so, and us otherwise?

However, Belarus is all too close to the West geographically and Lukashenka is surely not considered as an Eastern European Nazarbayev, i.e. another bad guy indispensable for the Western interests.

Yet, to change his policies in order to be welcomed in the West means for Belarusian president a near end of his political life, for his regime predictably cannot survive after adopting the measures demanded by Europe, like changes in electoral law and practice, providing more freedom for media or NGOs. Asking of Lukashenka to do it, means asking of him to go. No wonder, Belarusian leader will not accept such proposals unless he decides to finish his carrier.

Nevertheless, the relations between Lukashenka and the West are not yet in a dead-end, and are unlikely to be there anytime in the near future. Belarusian regime has many ways to avoid such predicament. First, it can continue its rather successful attempts to sell “security and stability” for Western toleration as well as offer its services for containment of Russia. Second, there many ways to do business, both political and economic, unofficially, with the same results, as Belarusian history of recent years has shown.

Third, even confronted one day with fatal necessity to negotiate with the West on its current terms, Minsk has a lot of things to sell without risking to cause a crash of Belarusian political model. Let's compare the risks encountered by Lukashenka in accepting, say, current European conditions.

Thus, while liberalization for media and NGOs (including Polish minority organizations) or free and fair elections could be fatal for Lukashenka's survival, such points as setting free political prisoners (anyway not so numerous) probably does not endanger the regime and could be swapped for some new Western credits, visits or other benefits. Another point, articulated by the West – capital punishment (not stopped in Belarus regardless repeated Western demands) is also not so crucial and its suspending or abolishing are only a question of price Belarusian authorities wish to get from their Western partners.

So far, this strategy of Belarusian government worked. Belarus managed to get loans with Western support. EU lifted travel restrictions for Belarus government officials and the US trade sanctions have been suspended, the country has been invited to join Eastern Partnership and Lukashenka visited European capitals.

SB

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

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