The cost of this increasingly intimate embrace with Moscow has been, and continues to be in the future, economic disaster for the dictatorship of Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are well-positioned to benefit from a new wave of outsourcing and datacenter development. Over time the former Soviet states could create their own mini-Silicon Valleys.
It will take nothing short of a popular uprising to loosen Lukashenko’s grip on power. In the meantime, the United States and Europe should impose stronger sanctions on Minsk, and step up public support for pro-democracy groups in the country.
Increased attention to repression in Belarus is welcome. We can only hope that some day the people of Belarus will enjoy their own “Arab Spring.”
The nations inhabiting the former Soviet space have to ask themselves whether the benefits of joining a Russian-dominated common area will outweigh the costs in terms of lost market flexibility outside the union and the loss of foreign policy discretion.
Economic turmoil throughout Europe is having an impact on the east. This could make 2012 an even more challenging year for all of Europe as it continues to struggle to contain the economic and political ramifications of the Euro crisis.
Whether this turns into something (slightly) larger or not is yet to be seen. The larger question is not so much how Belarus blunders (that it will blunder is a given), but rather how the European Union reacts.
Protests and negative attention from the EU and NGO’s may be too late to protect the interests of the Belarusian people. Lukashenko may manage to keep power just long enough to leave the people of Belarus more fully dependent on Mother Russia than any of the other former republics.