If Moscow and the West manage to de-escalate their confrontation, Lukashenko’s main currency—his demonstrative anti-Western stance—will be devalued in the eyes of the Kremlin.
“Repression is spreading like gas in a room: as long as there’s space there, it’s going to expand.” What do the latest developments in Belarus mean for the country’s future?
Russia is the only country that can truly influence the behavior of the Belarusian regime, so it’s only a matter of time before Western pressure is transferred from Minsk to Moscow.
The Belarusian regime has backed itself into a corner, and is now scared to ease up the pressure, fearing that if angry people are given more freedom, there could be a repetition of last August’s sweeping protests.
Belarus’s weakened position has not altered its traditional interests—or Minsk’s readiness to defend them. This is becoming increasingly obvious as the Belarusian regime regains control over the situation at home.
With the weekend’s developments in the Czech Republic and Belarus, the new border between Russia and the West is calcifying, eliminating not only movement from one side to the other, but also the freedom not to choose a side.
There are tough times ahead for U.S.-Belarusian relations. Reimposing sanctions will lead to a new stage of the diplomatic crisis and a further toughening of rhetoric.
Moscow faces the question of how to respond to procrastination over reform in Belarus. On the one hand, it might seem that the crisis there has passed, leaving no leverage over Lukashenko. On the other hand, he is going to need more money.
Lukashenko’s post-August turn away from the West and toward Russia is no guarantee that Belarus will not return to a multi-vector foreign policy sometime soon.
For the Baltic states, a good Russia policy is one that creates distance between them and their neighbor to the east while maintaining some ties with it. Yet the few areas of cooperation that remain could easily become casualties of political battles.