The crisis in Ukraine has been painful for nearly everyone involved. Russia finds itself under sanctions and at loggerheads abroad. NATO faces as grave a challenge as any since the cold war ended. And Ukraine itself, dismembered and drained by war, struggles to recover even as the fighting in the east of the country grinds to a halt. Yet one clear winner has emerged from the mess: Alexander Lukashenko, the mustachioed strongman of Belarus, to Ukraine’s north. Mr Lukashenko is a former collective- farm boss who has ruled Belarus for 21 years. He stands for his fifth consecutive presidential term on October 11th. To no one’s surprise, he will win. Known as “Europe’s last dictator”, he travels everywhere with his 11-year-old son, who packs a golden pistol and expects to be saluted by Belarusian generals. Elections in 2010 ended with a violent crackdown on protesters and the jailing of Mr Lukashenko’s rivals. The European Union imposed sanctions and travel bans for top officials, including Mr Lukashenko. Yet he approaches the vote feeling secure at home and enjoying a renaissance abroad. He has Ukraine to thank.
When compared with the chaos that followed revolution in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, Belarusians are inclined to see the virtues of Mr Lukashenko’s hardline emphasis on stability, says Valery Karbalevich, a political analyst—even though living standards are falling. Meanwhile, the Belarusian opposition is in disarray, with the old guard calling for a boycott of the election while others support a little-known candidate, Tatiana Korotkevich. No one is calling for demonstrations this time.
The wily president is also using the conflict in Ukraine to pose as a statesman. In a war involving its two biggest trading partners, Belarus adopted a largely neutral stance. Strikingly, Mr Lukashenko did not recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He offered his capital, Minsk, as a platform for peace talks.
Full Article: Europe’s last dictator | The Economist.