If Lukashenko falls, is Putin next?

Lukashenko rose to power in the 1990s as a firebrand populist who promised to take on the country’s elites. But in recent years he has shown little appetite for cultivating popular support, letting it wane as the Belarusian economy limped from crisis to crisis and setting the stage for the countrywide uprising now underway. Belarus’s economy is still dominated by the state. Any hint of political opposition is quickly smothered, and Lukashenko’s power is almost absolute.

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“It’s very personal. It’s very sultanistic,” said Ryhor Astapenia, a fellow at Chatham House and the founder and research director of the Center for New Ideas in Belarus. “Elites don’t have any significant role in the decision-making.”

Putin’s system of control is more sophisticated, a kabuki theater of democracy in which public sentiment is carefully monitored. While his popularity has declined, he has proved savvy enough to pacify key constituencies at least some of the time, making the prospect of a nationwide uprising in which Russians from Moscow to Khabarovsk could be united by a singular point of discontent unlikely.

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