For more than thirteen years Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the enigmatic leader of Belarus has been able to surprise everyone whilst in reality, changing little. Making use of popular interest in romantic notions of a “last dictatorship” or the last true outpost of the Soviet Union, Lukashenka has been able to capitalize on Belarus’ geopolitical position during these past years. Meanwhile, he deals with blackmail and keeps no gentlemen’s agreements in his attempts to reverse any Western conditionality.
Events in the last few weeks have reinforced this pattern. Thus, the row with the US Embassy, the opening of an EU Delegation in Minsk, the surprisingly low price of Russian gas for Belarus, the old-style police behaviour on Freedom Day, as well as the crackdown on independent media should all be analyzed within the framework of the current character of the regime. Even though the regime's previous pillars of support, such as social benefits and economic welfare, are taking a back seat, policies are unlikely to change as long as Lukashenka is in the leadership seat. However, the contradictions of new developments may also suggest that the regime is not as united as it was in previous years.