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A Thaw in Belarus?

putin_lukashenko.jpgThere’s an interesting piece in the Economist about the recent thaw in relations between Belarus and the West, and a possible political opening driven by Gazprom’s increasing reluctance to subsidize the Lukashenko regime with cheap natural gas – however “Europe’s last dictator” remains hung up on one political prisoner and sanctions against the state’s oil monopoly:

Politics seems to be thawing a bit inside Belarus too. The regime has responded to feelers put out by European countries, including Poland, and has released almost all political prisoners. Only one remains: Alyaksandr Kazulin, an outspoken figure who seems to have attracted Mr Lukashenka’s personal ire. American sanctions on a big Belarusian company, Belneftekhim, seem to have bitten hard too. The tempestuous Mr Lukashenka abruptly expelled the American ambassador last week. Mr Lukashenka has flirted with the West before and it would be too early to declare a change of heart. But whether because of the country’s economic plight (Russia is driving a much harder bargain on gas) or for some other reason, some rusty wheels are in motion. The BNR’s loyal supporters hope that theirs may turn too.