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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Reason For Another Milosevich

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Russia has a right to want to keep a loyal pro-Russian government in Minsk and no one could expect it to support the pro-Western opposition in Sunday's presidential election.

But President Alexander Lukashenko is an embarassment and a liability for Russia, which claims to be a democracy. He is a loose cannon, as demonstrated most recently by his threat Tuesday to expel the U.S. ambassador and the head of the OSCE mission after the election. The OSCE is the one who will tell the world whether the vote is carried out fairly, so in attacking the OSCE Lukashenko is not so subtly telling the world that he doesn't care what it thinks. He is staying in power and that's that.

President Vladimir Putin, to his credit, has distanced himself from Lukashenko. Just last month, the Belarussian president was left off the guest list for a grand celebration of 10 years of Ukrainian independence. Putin joined the Ukrainian and Polish presidents in Kiev for a display of Slavic brotherhood, but Lukashenko was conspicuously absent. This would have been unimaginable under Boris Yeltsin.

Still, Russia's support for Lukashenko remains strong. Russia is propping up the Belarussian economy. Russia's state television networks are going along with the pro-Lukashenko policy and ignoring the growing allegations that Lukashenko's friends have been making his political opponents disappear. Only NTV is showing some integrity.

Russian politicians, playing the nationalist, anti-Western card more than anything, have been parading through Minsk in recent weeks to throw their support to Lukashenko. The latest visitor was Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who according to Interfax said it was "an honor to be the friend of a person who is true to the union of Russia and Belarus." Lukashenko, he said, was "worthy of serving his people for another term."

It is one thing to see Lukashenko as Russia's only realistic choice. It is another to see him as the best choice for the people of Belarus. Russia has enormous influence in Belarus, not only through its widely watched TV channels. And most Belarussians have genuinely positive feelings toward Moscow. If given the opportunity and a little support, they just might choose a president who is both democratic and pro-Russian.

By sticking with Lukashenko, Russia risks alienating Belarussians down the road, especially if opposition to him grows. Belarussians will have nowhere to turn but to the West, and Russia will have lost another ally.

By sticking with Lukashenko, Russia risks repeating its mistake in Serbia, where it stood by Slobodan Milosevic until the end. Just ask the Serbs what they think of Russia now.