Rethinking Western policy towards Belarus

Chatham House briefing Published 4 April 2023 Updated 9 October 2023 ISBN: 978 1 78413 563 8 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135638
Three police officers with batons, shields and body armour stand at the top of a flight of steps

The autocratic Belarusian ruler Aliaksandr Lukashenka has been able to consolidate his hold on power by the mass repression of Belarus’s pro-democracy movement and by allowing the country to become a vassal state of Russia – exemplified by the country’s involvement in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Western policymaking towards the Lukashenka regime has lacked coherence and sent ambiguous signals about its credibility since the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, since Russia initiated a fully fledged war against Ukraine, the West’s agenda on Belarus has become narrow in scope.

Belarusian society remains the principal catalyst for democratic change in the country, but Western policymaking must become more active if it is to succeed in achieving democratization and removing Belarus from Russia’s sphere of influence.

This briefing paper from Ryhor Astapenia, who leads the Belarus Initiative, draws on findings from interviews and roundtable meetings with political stakeholders and experts on Belarus, as well as opinion polls conducted in the country itself, to propose viable routes for the development by Western governments of cohesive and effective policies on Belarus.