When Belarusian voters go to the polls to elect a new parliament in September, it should come as no surprise to anybody that Aleksandr Lukashenka is planning to fix the vote.
That, of course, is par for the course. He does it all the time.
But what's different this time around is exactly whom the Belarusian strongman is trying to exclude.
According to media reports, Lukashenka is taking steps to assure that no supporters of Vladimir Putin's so-called "Russian World" -- those dreaming of uniting the Russian-speaking parts of the former Soviet Union into a single political entity -- win seats in the new legislature.
According to a recent report in Gazeta.ru, he has instructed his administration to draw up criteria for candidates that requires them to be loyal to Belarusian independence.
The campaign to keep a Moscow-backed fifth column out of parliament coincides with a slight easing of restrictions on Belarus's pro-Western opposition.
There is even speculation that Lukashenka will allow some opposition figures into the legislature in hope that the West will recognize the election.
Now if nothing else, Lukashenka is a very skilled gamer.
He's flirting with the West, presenting himself as a bulwark against Russia -- but he isn't breaking with Moscow.
He's cooperating militarily with Russia, but has made it clear that he would not allow his territory to be used to attack a third country.
And despite persistent pressure from the Kremlin, Lukashenka has resisted efforts to open a new Russian military base on Belarusian territory.
And as a result, he has made himself indispensable to both Moscow and to the West.
Not a bad little trick for Europe's last dictator.
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