Lukashenko victory set to help rapprochement with EU

Lukashenko and sonLukashenko victory: Belarus’s hard-line leader Alexander Lukashenko – “Europe’s last dictator” – yesterday won a fifth presidential term with a landslide victory that could see an easing of relations with the west and raises questions about his ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Five years ago, an electoral victory on a similar scale led to mass protests and the imprisonment of leading opposition figures, but Western support for his 20-year-old regime has grown since he criticised Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in Ukraine last year and then hosted peace talks in Minsk. His pardoning of six opposition leaders in August is a further indication that he is seeking to improve his image in the west, observers say.
Relations with Moscow, meanwhile, have been showing signs of strain. Lukashenko recently turned down Vladimir Putin’s offer to build an airbase in Belarus as he appeared to bow to public opposition on the eve of the election.
But the lack of a protest movement and government crackdown means that Western countries are now almost certain to lift sanctions on Belarus and seek to boost economic ties, with diplomatic sources indicating that the EU would lift sanctions on both Belarus and Lukashenko himself for four months after Sunday’s vote, barring any last-minute crackdown