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Belarus risks alienating both Russia, EU in wake of political crackdown

Police in Belarus arrested more than 600 activists protesting Sunday's election that handed President Alexander Lukashenko a fourth term. He told opponents Monday, 'You are messing with the wrong guy.'

Policemen disperse a group of opposition protesters holding a picket in central Minsk on Dec. 20. At least seven election candidates and hundreds of opposition demonstrators were being held on Monday after police cracked down on a protest against the re-election of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

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Alexander Lukashenko appears to be completely secure in the massive – yet highly suspect – electoral landslide Sunday that returned him to a fourth five-year term as supreme leader of Belarus with 80 percent of the popular vote.

But in one night of police violence and mass arrests after opposition activists took to the streets to protest alleged vote-rigging, Mr. Lukashenko may have compromised his long-term survival strategy of turning to the European Union as a means of offsetting his dependence on Russia, Belarus' traditional sponsor.

Heading back into Moscow's arms, as he pledged to do in a Monday press conference, isn't likely to prove easy for him either. Among other things, the Russians are shaking their heads over US diplomatic cables just released by WikiLeaks that show Lukashenko frequently trashed the Kremlin and undermined key Russian policies in private meetings with Western envoys.

"Of course we'll have to deal with him," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-funded Institute of Commonwealth of the Independent States in Moscow. "But no more gifts for him, it'll be just something for something. And everything will have to be put in writing from now on, because Lukashenko has a tendency to spill the beans about matters decided orally, or in private."

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