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Belarus a Litmus Test for the West and Russia

(Washington, DC--November 30, 2001) One of the official observers of the recent presidential elections in Belarus says that the failure of democracy to develop in that country is a "litmus test for the West and Russia."

Ethan Burger, Project Director at American University's Transnational Crime and Corruption Center who observed the election for the Association of Central and Eastern European Election Observers, told an RFE/RL audience this week that the "alleged" presidential election in Belarus on 9 September that extended the dictatorial rule of Aleksandr Lukashenka was based on "rules designed to help re-elect Lukashenka" to the presidency. Burger said that, rather than reconciling itself to the election of Lukashenka, the West and Russia should agree to build the conditions for a real democracy in Belarus.

Burger said Lukashenka himself expects the West to "forget about Belarus because it's a small country" and accept his victory. Although he has failed to draw any significant Western investment since the election, Lukashenka continues to receive heavily subsidized energy flows from Russia, and Burger noted that this fact makes Putin "the key variable" for the continuation of the Lukashenka regime.

The U.S. should treat the Belarus government as a "criminal regime", Burger said, an approach already identified by Senator Jesse Helms in a recently introduced bill authored by the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Burger, Russia's willingness--or lack thereof--to join with the U.S. in this policy would show whether Putin is committed to "Russian imperialist [policies] or real western democracy."