Editorial: Belarus is paying price for stiffing West

Alexander Lukashenko is an unreconstructed Soviet-style communist that rules over a fragment of the old Soviet empire with an iron fist. Indeed, the once proposed a union between Belarus, his nation, and Russia as a first step in piecing back together the old Soviet Union.

The proposal met with a certain lack of enthusiasm in the Kremlin because it was clear whom Lukashenko thought should run this joint enterprise and it wasn't Vladimir Putin.

Undaunted, Lukashenko, kept in office by secret police and crooked elections, continued to run Belarus on the Soviet model and for a while, it appeared to work, providing a threadbare living for its people in state-owned enterprises.

The dirty secret to Belarus' economic stability was extensive Russian subsidies, especially for energy, and borrowed money. The Russians began cutting back on their subsidies, but for reasons still unclear, the International Monetary Fund extended Lukashenko a $3.5 billion loan right before the presidential elections.

The European Union offered him $4.2 million in aid if only he would hold an honest election but that limitation proved too onerous for Lukashenko who turned down the money and went ahead and stole the election.

As for the IMF loan, Radio Free Europe reports that Lukashenko "reneged on even the most minimal contingent conditions the fund attached to the loan."

Now the country is facing a currency crisis. Belarus' hard currency reserves are draining out of the country, and despite government controls the Belarusans are frantically swapping their rubles for dollars and Euros in advance of a devaluation everyone knows is coming.

Having alienated the West, Lukashenko has only one place to turn -- Russia. He is seeking $3 billion from his erstwhile partner. The Russians have suggested that in return Belarus should privatize its best assets, chemical plants, oil refineries and machinery plants. By "privatize" one suspects the Russians mean for Belarus to sell those facilities to certain Kremlin-connected oligarchs.

Lukashenko may get his union with Russia but in the form of a business merger in which he is very much the junior partner.


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