Belarus and the "Reset"

By John Tabin

On Sunday, Belarusian stongman Alexander Lukashenko stole an election after a headfake toward reforming his dictatorship. After the sham election, opposition candidates were arrested and/or beaten. As Anne Applebaum explained the other day,

Lukashenko's "victory" also means that - after a long flirtation with the liberal West and the authoritarian East - the Belarusan dictator has made his choice. Last month, the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland (yes, I am married to the latter) went to Minsk with an offer: In exchange for free elections, the European Union offered a major aid package, more open borders, and the potential for a deeper economic and political relationship. Since then, however, Lukashenko has repaired his skittish relationship with the Kremlin and signed a oil deal with Moscow, ensuring that his country's old economic model remains at least partly intact. For much of the past decade, Belarus has imported cheap oil from Russia, exported more expensive oil and oil products elsewhere, and has thus kept its budget balanced and its politicians rich. Now the deal is less favorable, but it's still better than anything Belarus could get on the open market.

And that, for the moment, is it... On the Monday morning after the police attack on the opposition, the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, declared that the elections were Belarus's "internal affair."

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has called the developments in Belarus "tragic," adding that "Respect for the democratic process and human rights of its citizens is at the center of our relationship and our aspirations for Belarus." But Crowley didn't mention Russia's role in backing Lukashenko. President Obama spoke with President Medvedev on the phone today and apparently didn't mention Belarus at all, presumably because it would complicate the Obama administration's "reset" policy toward Russia. "The two leaders wished each other a Merry Christmas, and pledged to continue their close partnership in the New Year," says the White House press office's read-out of the conversation. Heartwarming.


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