They were the largest antigovernment protests Belarus has seen in years.
They spread beyond Minsk to other major cities.
They appear to be driven by genuine grassroots anger.
And they may provide Vladimir Putin with just the pretext he is looking for to tighten Moscow's grip over its smaller neighbor.
Ever since Russia's intervention in Ukraine three years ago, Belarus's opposition has feared that attempts to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule with street protests could lead to a Russian intervention.
Likewise, Lukashenka has made modest efforts to reach out to the opposition, presenting himself as the best guarantor of Belarusian sovereignty.
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And this weekend's protests weren't part of the plan.
They don't appear to be driven by the traditional opposition, but by street-level anger about a sagging economy and about a new tax levied on the unemployed.
Up until now, Lukashenka has gamed things out perfectly in Belarus.
He's made himself indispensable to the West as a bulwark against Russia.
He's made himself indispensable to Russia as Moscow's last ally to the West.
And he's made himself indispensable to Belarus's opposition as the last defender of Belarus's sovereignty and independence.
But now there's a new player in the game called the Belarusian people -- and they appear to be fed up.
And if Lukashenka can't defuse the situation quickly, and if Putin decides to take advantage of any unrest to replace him with a more pliant figure, then Lukashenka the gamer may have finally met his match.
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