by G.F. | PRAGUE
A WEEK after truncheon-wielding riot police in Belarus put down mass protests over the rigged re-election of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the country's long-standing president, the largely pro-forma international response appears to have had little effect on the regime's continuing crackdown on the opposition.
Belarus's security service, which still calls itself the KGB, has filed charges against 17 opposition figures, among them seven presidential candidates who ran against Mr Lukashenka. They face up to 15 years in prison on charges of organising mass disturbances. Andrei Sannikov, who we wrote about last week, remains in custody, as does his wife, a journalist for Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper. On Friday police tried to force their three-year-old son into an orphanage before his grandmother took him into hiding.
Several of the 600-plus people arrested after the protests were sentenced to up to 15 days in prison. On Saturday, police launched a series of raids, seizing computers from the offices of opposition leaders.
Several Western countries have condemned the violent actions of the Lukashenka regime. Germany summoned the Belarusian ambassador in Berlin to issue a warning that Mr Lukashenka is isolating his country. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, have threatened to review relations with Belarus.
Mr Lukashenka has been here before. After the regime's violent response to protests over his rigged re-election four years ago, he and other Belarusian leaders were slapped with sanctions and travel bans.
The president then courted the EU, which proved receptive to his overtures. The travel bans were suspended. Ahead of last week's election, Poland and Germany offered Lukashenka several billions of euros in EU aid if the vote was deemed to be free and fair. But Mr Lukashenka looked east instead, opting for an oil deal with Russia.
Russian subsidies have kept Mr Lukashenka in power for years. A recent deterioration in ties-partly prompted by the Kremlin's anger over Mr Lukashenka's tack towards the West-appears to have hardened Russia's line. Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, described last week's vote as an "internal matter" for Belarus. Russia's response has been limited to pressing for the release of Russian nationals arrested in the police crackdown.
"There will be no more mindless democracy in this country," Mr Lukashenka told a news conference last week. Authorities have threatened to ban organisations that took part in the protests. Among those facing lengthy prison terms are some of the country's most prominent journalists, including editors of Charter 97, an opposition website.
As if to formalise Belarus's growing isolation from the rest of Europe, last week the parliament ratified an agreement to join a free-trade zone with Russia and Kazakhstan. This was the latest move in Mr Lukashenka's virtuoso performance in playing Russia off against the West.
All eyes are now on Europe. Last Friday, the New York Times ran an article by the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Sweden that described Mr Lukashenka's election as a "charade" and suggested that continued engagement with the Belarusian president was "a waste of time and money."
The EU's recent record of promoting democracy in former Soviet republics has been pitiful, not least in the Eastern Partnership programme, of which Belarus is a member. The coming weeks will show how much appetite there is to begin changing that.