Thursday, 12 June 2008

Belarus and Lukashenko's geopolitical balancing act

Kommersant, Russia’s business daily, carries an article examining the manner in which Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, plays Russian and western interests in his country off, one against the other, in order to strengthen his own position and copper-fasten the independence of the state. Translation renders the piece into somewhat idiosyncratic English, but it is worth persevering, because this is an interesting departure from perceived wisdom that Lukashenko, the vanity of a tyrant not withstanding, is effectively in the Kremlin’s pocket.

Fedor Lukyanov argues that Lukashenko has used Belarus’ strategic position, as the last bulwark separating Russia from NATO, to extract economic concessions from Russia, with the minimum secession of sovereignty and influence to the Kremlin. In tandem, Belarus’ proximity to both Russia and Poland allows Lukashenko to court the EU, without political pluralism ever seriously entering discussions.

Maintaining this delicate balance allows Lukashenko to retain such a firm grip on the governance of Belarus. To move too dramatically in either direction would compromise both his personal position, and the fragile sense of national identity which the country has established. It will be a geopolitical miscalculation, a movement in either direction from the centre of this see-saw, which Lukyanov believes may eventually account for Lukashenko’s regime.

No comments: