Longtime observers of Belarus — far and away the worst dictatorship of the former Soviet Republics the name of which does not end with -stan — are aware that President-for-Life Alexander Lukashenko’s reign over the otherwise promising state has been characterized by a handful of distinct characteristics: sloppiness, kleptocracy, wasted industrial and economic capacity, a funny-looking mustache, brutal repression of the thin opposition and free press, human rights abuses, and servitude to Moscow.
Lukashenko has many, many sins to his name, but outright idiocy is not one, and so he has once again embarked on a tour of the world, working to drum up a source of economic growth for the country that does not come from Moscow. As most of Europe rightly treats Belarus as a pariah, a satellite of Russia, or both, he has been forced into regions of the world less concerned with messy problems like fixed ballots and political prisoners.
These sorts of things are only done on the fly by Armenia and Cyprus, so of course Lukashenko has rounded up thousands if not millions of dollars in deals from such luminaries of democracy as the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. The problem, of course, is that the slow-motion catastrophe that is Belarus is not going to be arrested by these Potemkin deals.
Belarus has turned over its foreign policy, economic development, and trade to Moscow, who are much more concerned with the bigger prize to the immediate south; and so unsurprisingly, Minsk languishes and most often makes financial news by going for another loan to prop up its aging and dying economy from Russia.
A hard government need not have a poor economy; China is proof that a country can brutally trample its citizens and still produce economic growth. It is a testament to Lukashenko and his cronies that they can neither manage functional democracy nor economic growth, having inherited a well-educated population with large industrial infrastructure and trade just waiting to happen to the West and the East.
Lukashenko is not yet sixty, and shows no signs of loosing his grip on power. Worse, for every Opposition politician and protester, there are many, many believers in the cult of “Daddy Lukashenko” or those who believe that the scattered and bumbling opposition will be no better.
Belarus had the potential to be something great twenty years ago. Today, it is a failing joke.