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Whoever is doing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's PR at the moment, it seems to be working wonders.

Although many Italian newspapers were full of criticism of their government for being the first to help break Lukashenka's diplomatic isolation, the defining image of the meeting was not "Lukashenka the dictator," but "Lukashenka the father."

Never one to be upstaged, the Belarusian leader brought his five-year-old son, Nikola, to the meeting. Resplendent in a white cardigan among the papal grays and purples, Nikola stole the show, playing with a football and presenting the pope with his ABC's book. (See more photos here from our Belarus Service)

In 2008, Lukashenka employed the services of British PR guru Timothy Bell and, while remaining erratic and hard to pin down, the president has toned down some of his excesses. Even the FT did a flashy spread about the benefits of doing business in Belarus last November.

Lukashenka has two elder sons, but Nikola, is rumored to be his favorite. (The identity of Nikola's mother is not known in public and Lukashenka, who grew up without a father, reportedly has a special affection for his youngest son.)

Some observers have even suggested that Lukashenka is grooming Nikola as his successor which, if true, would indicate the president is playing a very long game indeed.

-- Luke Allnutt

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at