EU and Russia on opposite sides over Lukashenko's fourth-term win

Alexander Lukashenko, the long-serving leader of Belarus, was inaugurated on January 21 for a fourth term of office following his re-election late last year as president of the former Soviet republic, a strategically important country sandwiched between the European Union and the Russian Federation.

by Marcus Papadopoulos

Mr Lukashenko, who has run Belarus since 1994 and enjoys considerable support among ordinary Belarusians, was re-elected with 80 per cent of the vote - triggering mass protests in central Minsk and an attempted storming of the Belarusian parliament which, in turn, resulted in a heavy crackdown by the police and members of the interior ministry. More than 30 people, including opposition politicians, face lengthy custodial sentences for what the Prosecutor General's office describes as "mass disturbances".

The EU and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have refused to recognise the election result, with the latter describing the vote as "flawed". Brussels is considering imposing sanctions on Belarus and possibly banning President Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials from visiting EU countries - as well as freezing the assets of the Belarusian leader.

Mr Lukashenko has accused Germany and Poland of attempting to organise a coup on the day of the election. During his inauguration ceremony, he said his government would "safeguard security and stability against plots from inside and outside the country."

The Russian government has recognised Mr Lukashenko's election victory and supports the prosecution of those arrested during the disturbances.

Russia is the big winner of the recent events in Belarus. In the last couple of years, President Lukashenko has flirted with the EU in a bid to try and get the Kremlin to give into some of his demands, for instance lower gas prices for his country. The Belarusian leader has also annoyed Moscow by refusing to allow Belarus to become part of the Russian Federation - at the request of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - preferring, instead, to see himself as the future leader of a proposed Union State of Russia and Belarus.

However, Mr Putin has no desire to see Mr Lukashenko take power in the Kremlin and has, consequently, put a great deal of political pressure on the Belarusian leader to comply with his demands.

Mr Lukashenko who, like Mr Putin, is nostalgic for the Soviet past, has been served a reminder that his rule of Belarus is guaranteed by the Kremlin and he may now have no choice but to acquiesce to what Moscow wants.


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