Iron Lady's spin doctor - an adviser to "Europe's last dictator"?

It is a country with an image problem in the West, but mystery surrounds an attempt by Belarus to hire a PR guru who can deliver the headlines it wants. President Aleksandr Lukashenko has met with Margaret Thatcher's former spin doctor about the issue, but months after initial contact was established, no announcement has been made about any deal.

A contract with Lord Tim Bell, a media mastermind for the former British Prime Minister, was reportedly due to be signed last week. But no further details have been disclosed and it remains unclear where any agreement stands now.

Lukashenko is actively working on a new image, both for him personally and his country.

He has been President of Belarus since 1994 but his leadership has been strongly criticised by many countries in the West. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the state "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe".

Lord Bell visited Minsk in March this year to meet the Belarusian leader. He explained to the media at the time what his brief would be.

"I went to see him at his request," he said. "He's asked me to put a proposal together about how his image could be improved.

"He would like his country to be better understood and his successes to be better grasped. Lukashenko doesn't see why Belarus can't be a friend to the West and a friend to Russia at the same time."

Lord Bell is a friend of Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled Russian businessman. The PR veteran was reportedly involved in drawing media attention to the death of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London in November 2006.

In 1999, the Chilean Reconciliation Movement hired Lord Bell to help fight the extradition threat hanging over Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Another of Pinochet's advisors, Patrick Robertson, has also become a visitor to Minsk, according to the British press.