Fears that Russia may use Zapad 2017 as cover to carry out a hybrid operation in Belarus are overblown. Moscow has other levers with which it can coerce Minsk, and it neither needs nor is interested in another military adventure at the moment.
President Lukashenka realises that relying solely on Moscow is dangerous and wants instead to diversify his strategic options by inching closer to Europe. But there are limits to how much Lukashenka can, or even wants to, approach the West. His survival depends fundamentally on maintaining an economic lifeline to Moscow. He knows that taking significant amounts of Western money comes with requirements of structural reforms that would undermine the basis for his rule.
The European Union should support the gradual strengthening of Belarusian sovereignty, build further links, and step up engagement. This will bring Belarus closer to the West, as well as create more opportunities to influence Minsk on human rights and democracy. A policy of isolation would only push Belarus further into Russia’s tight embrace.
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