The Tyrant of Belarus: Gaddafi's Friend Far, Far to the North?

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Andrey Stasevich / Belta / AFP

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, left, and Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko walk past a Belarusian honor guard in Minsk, Nov. 2, 2008

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On Feb. 27, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had learned "with deep concern" that Belarus was delivering attack helicopters to the forces of Laurent Gbagbo, the embattled President of Ivory Coast. Gbagbo was accused of stealing an election in November, and has been brutally clinging to power ever since.

Lukashenko knows about such violence. In December, his electoral victory was also disputed by international observers, and tens of thousands of protesters rallied against him in the main square of his capital, Minsk, with some trying to storm the parliament building. Police beat and arrested hundreds of them, and last week Lukashenko said he "would not have hesitated" to send in the military if those protests had posed "a real threat."

The U.S. and Europe hit Lukashenko with a new round of sanctions in January, helping to put him in the same league Gbagbo and Gaddafi are in now, says Alexander Klaskovsky, a political analyst in Minsk. "He is pushed into a corner right now," Klaskovsky says. "So he has a bit more reason to sympathize with his so-called blood brothers, who find themselves in a similar position." This is nothing new for Lukashenko. In 2010, for instance, he gave asylum to the autocratic President of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who has been living comfortably in Belarus ever since he was overthrown by a mass uprising last April.

But Lukashenko's most powerful instinct, Klaskovsky adds, is not sympathy but self-preservation. "He is a master at thumping his chest, but he knows what lines he cannot cross. And he has never engaged in weapons trades when the spotlight of U.N. sanctions is really shining down."

So any military support Belarus has been giving Libya has likely been cut by the U.N. embargo, ironically imposed on the same day that Gaddafi lost another lifeline from Eastern Europe. On Sunday, his Ukrainian nurse, famously described in a U.S. diplomatic cable as "a voluptuous blonde," flew home after having cared for Gaddafi for years. Her loyalty, however, seems not to have waned. "Papa is good, Papa is for ever," Galyna Kolotnytska was heard saying about Gaddafi by one of her fellow passengers, according to the Reuters news agency. "Gaddafi will win. In a month and a half to two months, we will be going back there."

Good luck with that. But if "Papa" and his fighters fail to overcome the revolt, the Libyan leader could still have the option of seeking refuge in Belarus. It would be a little cold for him to pitch his tent in the winter, but it may be a better option than the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

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