MINSK, Belarus — The United States’ top diplomat once called this cloistered nation the last dictatorship in Europe. Its fearsome security services are still named the KGB. But after a year of geopolitical conflict with Russia, some in the West say Belarus may not be so bad after all.
Recently, senior European Union leaders have paid visits to President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled his nation with an iron grip since 1994. Top State Department leaders have dropped by, even though the last U.S. ambassador was expelled seven years ago. And last week, Belarusan leaders participated in an E.U. summit intended to help former Soviet nations move away from Russia and build stronger ties with Europe.
Western officials have started to feel that isolating Belarus was simply driving it closer to Russia.
Lukashenko has reveled in the attention after tacking away from Russia on its tough policies toward Ukraine. He has boasted of his diplomatic successes — while still taking a hard line against his country’s beleaguered opposition. Even those opponents say they are now cautious about pushing too hard against him, afraid that Russia could take advantage of any ensuing turmoil, as it did in Ukraine.