Leading article: Dealing smartly with Lukashenko


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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little