By Paul Goble
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pursued what his supporters call a “multi-vector” foreign policy, one that balanced his ties with Moscow by improved relations with the West. But in recent weeks and especially at the CIS summit in Dushanbe, the Belarusian leader appears to have scrapped that position and adopted a completely pro-Russian one.
Valery Karbalevich of Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service argues that Lukashenka’s latest moves mean Moscow has demanded that Minsk display more support for Moscow in its conflict with the West and Ukraine as a condition for receiving additional Russian assistance (svaboda.org/a/29516203.html in Belarusian; charter97.org/ru/news/2018/10/1/307299/ in Russian.)
But the Belarusian commentator says that in his view, it is too soon to draw such conditions. Lukashenka has a long history of moving in one direction for a time and then moving in quite another later. Thus, his pro-Moscow stance now could soon be followed by pro-Western moves particularly if he sees a benefit in taking them.
And while Karbalevich does not address this possibility in his article, there is also the chance that Lukashenka is adopting a pro-Russian stance precisely to defend his own country and his own position. If he can show Moscow that he is prepared to be loyal in the extreme, the Kremlin will have fewer reasons to push for the annexation of Belarus by Russia.
To the extent that the Belarusian leader is following that logic, his pro-Moscow remarks and actions in recent weeks may be the best defense of Belarus and himself he can put up against increasing Russian pressure on his regime.