Belarus is the only CIS country whose geopolitical preferences haven't been defined yet.
This proposition may seem absurd, because formally everything is clear-cut: Minsk has been in alliance with Moscow. But in reality everyone has learned that you can hardly find a better advocate of national independence than the Belarusian president.
Alexander Lukashenko's commitment to the concept of sovereignty can be easily explained. Only 100% sovereignty can secure him the scope of personal power he needs. And Belarus is now at the crossroads: It deliberately styles itself as the desired "prize" in a big competition. At the same time Mr Lukashenko appears to reckon that he can play the game for ever.
Model "geopolitical loyalty in exchange for economic preferences" - something the integration of Russia and Belarus used to be based upon - won't work any longer. Pragmatically, Moscow needs concrete economic dividends from Minsk, rather than the rhetoric about the "last stronghold" saving you from NATO's expansion.
Lukashenko is aware of it, that's why he has repeatedly tried to establish good relations with the EU. Energy security is Europe's heel of Achilles, which the Belarusian leader wants to stress. "Let's jointly sap the expansion ambitions of Russia," he'd say. It's obvious that the inner-political situation in Belarus is not to be discussed.
Europeans are quite cynical, but you can't repeat the story of Muammar al-Gaddafi, who turned out a respectable head of state. Belarus is a European country; so, a basic set of criteria is applied to it.
The United States is able to demonstrate a more flexible approach. Say, Uzbekistan, compared to which Belarus looks like an oasis of democracy, used to be an important partner of the USA, and it seems the country can regain this role. But Lukashenko has really fallen out with Washington. The harsh pressing of the U.S. embassy borders with personal insult. That's why American representatives say that the matter is not only in the Belarusian democracy any more. The hint is clear: No compromise is possible with this regime.
The paradox is in that if there is a state on the territory of the former USSR that ideally suits for being integrated in western organizations, the EU first of all, it is Belarus. It's a compact monoethnic country of European size and culture with educated population and without oligarchs and privatization consequences. Just like in a textbook.
The role of Alexander Lukashenko is unique. On the one hand, he has virtually created independent Belarus' national identity - an odd, but its own one. On the other hand, he has blocked any opportunity of moving in either direction. But one day the striving for geopolitical acquisitions can have the upper hand, which will bode ill for Mr Lukashenko.
Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs magazine