Perhaps I’m getting Marxist in my old age, but would it be wrong to suggest that economics is driving most things political in Belarus these days? That’s to say, does the world economic crisis explain the very modest gestures in the direction of political liberalisation that have recently been taken in what is emphatically Europe’s most tightly controlled state?
At the start of this year, with its economy tottering, Belarus devalued its currency by 20 per cent and negotiated a $2.5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund. Belarus has also secured a pledge of $2bn in credits from Russia, the giant neighbour from which it receives almost all its energy supplies at subsidised prices. Belarus has large debt repayments looming. The fact is, Belarus is in deep economic trouble and won’t get out of it without help from the IMF, the European Union and – let this not be forgotten in Western countries – Russia.