2011 was a tough year for embattled Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. For years, he has skillfully played his hand and maintained enough balance between Russia and the European Union to prop up his country's sovereignty -- despite his authoritarian administration's Soviet-style economic policies.
Now, though, his national currency is crashing around him, and his heavy-handed crackdown on dissent has so thoroughly alienated the West that Moscow remains his only hope. Meaning that the Kremlin and Kremlin-friendly Russian oligarchs are circling like vultures around the country's few attractive assets. It is a real question now to what extent Belarus will remain a sovereign state by the end of 2012.
So you'd think that Lukashenka might back away from the brink a little bit and try to mend some fences with the West. But you'd be wrong.
In an interview with the Russian News Service conducted by the Kremlin's favorite attack-dog journalist Sergei Dorenko that will be released on December 16, Lukashenka said that Western leaders "have no balls." According to his Twitter feed, Dorenko followed up with the natural question that must be on everyone's mind: "What about [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy?"
Lukashenka stood his ground: "Even Sarkozy has none." Despite the European cajones crisis, Lukashenka insisted the West wants to treat Belarus "like a wife," which apparently is a bad thing in his universe.
Lukashenka was a bit more coy about what Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may or may not have in his BVDs. Dorenko asked him twice and the cagey Belarusian responded only: "I think the same thing about him that you do." It is probably best not to think too much about that little triangle.
It should be noted that Lukashenka can dish it out, but he can't take it. It is against the law in Belarus to "insult the personal dignity and honor of the president" and as recently as July Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut was convicted of doing so
Maybe Lukashenka should take an example from Putin. Insulting the president or the prime minister is not, technically, illegal in Russia. However, just this week, two senior executives at the Kommersant publishing group were fired by the Kremlin-cozy oligarch who owns the company for publishing a photograph he deemed insulting to Putin.
The photo showed a ballot cast during the December 4 Duma elections that had been decorated with a witty epithet telling Putin to go do something obscene to himself.
Putin was asked about the incident during his annual televised Q&A marathon and responded that he'd seen the picture and had been amused by it. Within seconds, someone posted on Facebook, "Now we know how to amuse Putin! Let's all tell him to go *** himself!"
-- Robert Coalson