London spin doctor helps Europe's last dictatorship

The man often referred to as Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, has turned to one of Britain's best PR gurus to brighten his image. Lord Tim Bell, who helped Margaret Thatcher win several elections, has reportedly been hired by Lukashenko.

He has been President of Belarus since 1994, and has been permanently criticised by Western powers. He is under a visa ban from the U.S. and the EU and the U.S. Secretary of State described Belarus as the last true dictatorship of Central Europe.

"The situation for Lukashenko has started changing in early 2007, about a year and a half ago so he did have some time to think. He started some very slow rapprochement with Europe, he probably got good signs from the Union unlike from the United States, so he feels there is a possibility and is doing everything he can to exploit it to the full," explains Global Insight's analyst Natalia Leschenko, a native from Belarus who even devoted her PHD to Lukashenko.

"You see almost the children's picture book version of what the Soviet Union would have been like if they could have made it work. The place has been washed. It actually looks in Soviet terms pretty good and if you didn't know that it was quite a dangerous tyranny you would not immediately be able to spot it," confesses the columnist of The Mail on Sunday Peter Hitchens, who went to the capital Minsk, to research a story on how a Tyrant was attempting to transform into an ally of the West.

And although there is plenty to fix in the way the country is run, PR still stands a chance, says Hitchens.

"What any PR man given the job of selling Belarus would say is: Hey, look, there are lots of other countries which are run by people who are not necessarily entirely democratic which actually get on perfectly well with the West," observes Hitchens.

Lord Tim Bell, the man who is believed to be behind the PR campaign, is best known for his advisory role in Margaret Thather's three successful UK general election campaigns. He advised her on interview techniques, what to wear and even her hairstyle. And although he has a number of controversial clients, like for example Boris Berezovsky, the Russian oligarch wanted by Moscow, he does not seem to think that will get in the way.

"He'll take on anything, nothing and nobody could threaten him, his self-confidence is immense and he will certainly make him controversial and whether he is going to succeed in getting Belarus to be seen as he would like to be seen - that's not quite certain," states David Wynne-Morgan, President of Pelham PR.

Lord Bell has refused to confirm or deny that he has taken up the task.