Loans for Belarus

Alyaksander Lukashenka, the authoritarian president of Belarus since 1994, represents the unacceptable face of post-communist eastern Europe, combining fearsome political repression with fiscal incompetence. His lamentable record bears comparison with that of Robert Mugabe, his ageing counterpart in Zimbabwe. But just as the International Monetary Fund is giving Zimbabwe technical advice to help it overcome its economic troubles, so the IMF should carefully consider the appeal for financial assistance that it received this week from Belarus.

The government needs aid largely because of a reckless increase in public spending that Mr Lukashenka arranged last year to minimise opposition to his re-election. Now the Belarusan rouble has crashed in value, economic output is slumping and hyper-inflation is on the horizon. Meanwhile, last December’s election was so marred by fraud and followed by such violence against Mr Lukashenka’s political opponents that the US and the European Union, after an attempt at thawing relations, re-imposed sanctions on his regime.

A loan programme for Belarus would put western governments in the curious position of applying sanctions with one hand while extending financial support, via the IMF, with the other. Nevertheless, if the IMF is confident that it can enforce loan conditions with more success than it did after issuing $3.5bn to Belarus in 2009-10, then an aid programme is the right course of action.

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