Belarus dictator Lukashenko says he'll leave post after new constitution
Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said he will step down after a new constitution comes into force, according to Belarusian state media.
Why it matters: Lukashenko has faced three months of protests following a rigged election in August. He has promised to reform the constitution to reduce the near-absolute powers of the president, but has insisted that his strong hand is needed to see that process through.
“I will not work as president with you under the new constitution.”— Lukashenko on Friday
Between the lines: Lukashenko has not held onto power for 26 years by accident, and he's unlikely to simply fade away now — at least not willingly.
- He has slow-walked the constitutional reform process while cracking down on the opposition and ensuring the continued support of the security services.
- Even in announcing that he plans to eventually leave his post, he seemed to leave open the possibility of taking a role other than president.
The other side: Franak Viačorka, a top adviser to opposition leader and self-declared president of "democratic Belarus" Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, tweeted that the opposition movement would "continue insisting on elections before constitution reform."
The big picture: An almost Soviet-style nationalist, Lukashenko played the West and Russia off against one another for years, taking what he could from both relationships.
- But the U.S. and EU turned sharply against him as August's fraudulent election was followed by allegations of torture against protesters.
What to watch: Russia offered Lukashenko public shows of support amid the initial post-election revolt, but analysts have long predicted that the Kremlin would prefer a transition to a more pliable and less politically toxic president.
- Visiting Minsk on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov publicly encouraged Lukashenko to move ahead with the long-promised constitutional reforms.
- "We of course have an interest in the situation being calm, stable and we think that beginning the constitutional reform initiated by the country's leadership would contribute to this," Lavrov said.