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Will West take softer line as Belarusian presidential election draws near?

September 10, 2015, 17:12 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Alexander Lukashenko

Alexander Lukashenko

© Nikolay Petrov/BelTA/TASS

MOSCOW, September 10. /TASS/. Everybody agrees Belarus’s 2015 presidential election race is very different from all the previous ones, although analysts are certain that the outcome of the voting due October 11 is predetermined and Alexander Lukashenko will stay in office for a fifth term in a row. Whether the West takes a better attitude to Minsk depends on the world community’s recognition the forthcoming election will agree with the existing international standards. In the meantime, the Belarussian leader needs normalization of relations with the West for financial reasons: should western loans become available again and sanctions be lifted, it will be much easier to better the complicated economic situation in the country. At the moment some 200 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko himself, and two dozen companies are under EU sanctions.

Nevertheless, many pundits are certain the West will not recognize the election in Belarus as democratic anyway, while trying to further mend relations with the Belarussian leader and drive a wedge between him and Russia.

The West has already appreciated the Belarusian leader’s attempts to make his own contribution to settling the Ukrainian crisis and last August’s release of six opposition figureheads, whom human rights campaigners regard as political prisoners. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has hailed this move, adding, though, that it was not enough yet for revising relations with Belarus. The European Union will not consider the issue of lifting sanctions from Belarus, European officials said following Wednesday’s meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

"Against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine Lukashenko has developed the feeling he may attain an impeccable victory," the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, has told TASS. "As the election campaign proceeds, he will find it rather easy to demonstrate his achievements: ‘Take a look at Ukraine. Take a look at the living standards there and here. And take a look at the order we have here and the chaos there.’"

The head of the Centre for Current Politics, Sergey Mikheyev, argues that all steps to liberalize Belarus’s internal affairs are taken for the sole purpose of making the election returns legitimate in the eyes of the West. "As a matter of fact the domestic policies remain unchanged," he told TASS. "The way I see it, this is a tactical move, not a strategic one. Although it is not ruled out that under the influence of events in neighboring Lukashenko may agree to give the opposition greater freedom so as to avoid fanning tensions."

At the same time Mikheyev is skeptical this will help Lukashenko gain a more favourable attitude of the West. "I am certain that whatever may be done, the West will keep saying no matter what the election was undemocratic."

"The West will not recognize this election as democratic and legitimate this time, too, but there will be far less criticism than on all previous such occasions," the first deputy president of the Center for Political Technologies, Alexey Makarkin, told TASS. "For the West Russia is number one annoyance, so Lukashenko will be hearing far less criticism."

Makarkin believes that the West is rather interested in arranging relations with Lukashenko somehow and "will try to pull him away from Russia."

"Lukashenko will be using this to his own benefit, of course, but he will never agree to venture too far away from Russia," he said.

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors