Small country, big problems

Belarus: Rigged elections assure erratic President Alexander Lukashenko another term.

September 11, 2001

BELARUS IS a small country with big problems. Among them is its tyrannical President Alexander Lukashenko, who just won a rigged election.

In six years, the former collective farm director has turned Belarus into Europe's most repressive country.

Opposition newspapers are banned; government critics silenced. Stalinist economic ideas and the secret police rule.

However insignificant this backward nation may appear, it is a potential troublemaker as one source of arms for Saddam Hussein and other international pariahs.

This is particularly alarming because Mr. Lukashenko is quite paranoid, claiming the United States and the West are behind all kinds of conspiracies against Belarus and its 10 million people. One of his election promises was to expel the U.S. ambassador, Michael Kozak.

Mr. Lukashenko dreams of re-creating the Soviet Union. Despite its nominal independence, Belarus is economically dependent on Russia. The two countries also maintain close military and security ties.

In dealing with the unpredictable Mr. Lukashenko, the United States will need the Kremlin's mediation. That is the only voice the president trusts and is willing to listen to.

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