From an overripe apple that looked sure to drop into Moscow’s lap all on its own, the Belarusian regime is increasingly coming to resemble a toxic asset that’s as difficult to engage with as it is to get rid of.
Courted by Alexander Lukashenko since the 2000s, China has gradually expanded its presence, economic and otherwise, in Belarus. However, its strengthening position there has not come at Russia’s expense, and, as unrest spreads following last month’s presidential election, there is little reason to expect China to step in to rescue the embattled president.
Massive and persistent, protests in the usually quiet country of Belarus have taken the world by surprise and suddenly brought the country to the centre of Europe's attention.
Lukashenko faced the classic autocrat’s dilemma: avoid a revolution by making compromises and introducing elements of real democracy, or—regardless of the growing price of hanging on to power—fall back on costly repression with costly consequences.
Friends of Belarus need to recognize that a revolution is not the end, but merely the beginning of what is certain to be a long and difficult road toward making it a “normal country.”
The Kremlin has had enough of Lukashenko, but it cannot allow Belarus to follow the path of Ukraine and become another anti-Russian, NATO-leaning bulwark on its borders.
The impending collapse of the Belarusian regime and whatever comes next reveal a lot more than events in Ukraine did about possible political transformation in Russia.
It’s not yet clear how the country will emerge from this political crisis, but it’s safe to say things won’t go back to the way they were.
In Russia and Belarus, civil societies are uniting faster than the two countries themselves.
Both Russia and the West may be sick and tired of the mercurial Belarusian autocrat, but they still see him as the lesser evil.