Leading article: Dealing smartly with Lukashenko

Share

Once again Russia and the West are circling each other and locking horns over a third party. The last time was over Ukraine, where Europe and the US denounced the 2004 presidential election as a farce and Russia defended the result to the hilt.

This time the storm is over Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko's isolated fiefdom, and the script is a similar one: a presidential election denounced by outside observers as a farce.

This time the stakes are higher for Russia, for after the orange revolution brought a pro-Western leader to power in Kiev, Belarus is the Kremlin's last European dependency.

Fortunately, fear of Russian ire has not caused the Europeans or Americans to muffle their dismay. Both have greeted Mr Lukashenko's claim that he won 82 per cent of the votes last week (against 6 per cent for his rival) with scorn. The response to the weekend arrest of one opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, after an anti-government rally in Minsk, has also been swift. Brussels and Washington have promised "smart" sanctions on the Minsk government, blocking its officials from travelling to Europe or the US.

Some will dismiss this as a cosmetic gesture. But a calibrated response such as this is right, at least for now. Much as the West may deplore Mr Lukashenko's thuggery, his popularity at home has to be taken into account. His contempt for democratic norms, a free press or an independent judiciary is an affront to European standards, but it does not appear to worry most Belarussians, many of whom prize jobs and regular pensions over abstract-sounding promises of greater civil liberties.

Mr Lukashenko's eccentric brand of socialism has, moreover, profited from popular dismay over the kind of "wild capitalism" practised in Russia, which has seen obscene amounts of wealth falling into the hands of a clique of so-called entrepreneurs while millions sink into poverty.

So Europe is right to tread carefully when dealing with a figure such as Mr Lukashenko whose unsavoury style of government rests on a large degree of popular consent.

Brussels and Washington should continue to do what they are doing now; withhold all recognition of Mr Lukashenko's sham elections, stop him from boasting of his achievements outside his borders and remind his sponsor, Vladimir Putin, that Russia's ties with Europe are worth more in the long term than Mr Lukashenko's gratitude. Beyond that, change is up to the Belarussians. As events in Ukraine and Georgia showed, people power can displace undemocratic leaders whose time has passed. The same fate may befall Mr Lukashenko if he remains on his present path.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Care Support Workers

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this care company base...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent