Wednesday 7 December 2016

Belarussian relations with West to ease after vote

Karla Zorossa Moscow

Published 13/10/2015 | 02:30

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, won a fifth term in office by a landslide on Sunday in an election that could see an easing of relations with the West and raise questions about his ties to Vladimir Putin's Russia.

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Mr Lukashenko's re-election five years ago led to mass protests and the imprisonment of leading opposition figures, but support for his 20-year-old regime has risen since he cast himself as a guarantor of stability in the face of an economic crisis and a pro-Russian separatist conflict in neighbouring Ukraine.

The West has long ostracised Mr Lukashenko's Belarus, described in 2005 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "Europe's last dictatorship", over its human rights record and clampdown on political dissent. Nevertheless, his criticism of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula last year, his hosting of Ukraine peace talks and his pardoning of the six opposition leaders in August suggest he is seeking to improve his image in the West, observers say. "We have carried out everything the West wanted on the eve of the elections. If there is a desire in the West to improve our relations, nobody and nothing can prevent that," Mr Lukashenko said as he cast his vote. "The ball is now firmly in the West's court," he said. The central election commission said Lukashenko won 83.5pc of the vote.

Relations with former Soviet master Moscow have shown some signs of strain. In September, President Vladimir Putin approved a plan to build an airbase in Belarus, but early this month Lukashenko said his country had no need for such a base.

Irish Independent

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