Imposition of more punishments would come with the downside of an increasing East-West divide. The distancing of Belarus from Western democracies could mean that the country, already heavily dependent on Russia, would fall fully into the hands of Vladimir Putin. Putin has long hoped to absorb Belarus into some sort of new Slavic union he would head.
Until now, at least, Lukashenko had resisted any such merger.
A Belarus forever stuck in Moscow’s embrace is clearly an EU concern. In the middle of this crisis, after pro-democracy activist Raman Pratasevich was pulled from the Ryanair plane, jailed and then probably tortured, the EU offered Belarus aid totaling three billion Euros, with a big condition: The funds would be delivered “once Belarus embarks on a democratic transition,” EU officials announced.
That kind of carrot might have worked before last year when Lukashenko was playing off the Europeans and Russia for his benefit. He got development money from the EU while Russia supplied cheap oil and loans. Lukashenko even hosted talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis as a sign of his supposed value as a neutral arbiter in possible East-West conflicts.