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The Daily Vertical: Lukashenka Plays Chicken (Transcript)

  • Brian Whitmore

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

It's hard to figure out whether Alyaksandr Lukashenka is crazy -- or crazy like a fox.

Over the past week, the Belarusian strongman has been on something of a roll:

He lashed out at Russia for establishing border checkpoints;

He rejected Moscow's plan to build a new air base on Belarusian soil;

He lauded Ukraine's fight for independence from Russia;

And he launched an investigation into Russian food-safety officials for banning Belarusian agricultural products.

All these moves came as Russia threatened to cut oil supplies to Belarus in half, and amid increased fears in Minsk that Moscow is contemplating a hybrid attack on its neighbor.

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We've of course been here before.

Over the years, and especially since the annexation of Crimea, Lukashenka has been something of a master gamer, bobbing and weaving between Russia and the West.

And up to now, it's worked. He's managed to assure that Moscow keeps subsidizing his economy and has gotten the West to ease sanctions against him.

He's flirted with the West, presenting himself as a bulwark against Russia, but hasn't broken with Moscow.

He's managed to be Vladimir Putin's Nicolae Ceausescu.

But in recent months, the game has changed.

Putin's regime believes it has the upper hand on the West and Moscow is clearly emboldened in its neighborhood.

And, with NATO troops in Poland and Lithuania, Belarus's strategic value has just increased.

Up until now, Lukashenka has been a master gamer.

But the game has now become a lot more dangerous.

Keep telling me what you think on The Power Vertical's Twitter feed and on our Facebook page.

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