Public demonstrations against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have intensified. Looked at casually, it seems unlikely that his presidency can survive. If the protesters are as dedicated as they appear, then Lukashenko has run out of maneuvering room. The only solution to an intense and long-term resistance is an armed force that will shoot into the crowd. Since the protests have gone on for weeks and that hasn’t happened, the demonstrators’ calculation is that it won’t happen.
Lukashenko’s only option to remain in power, therefore, is to change the game. His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday was an attempt to do just that and, along the way, allow Putin to change his game as well.
Lukashenko has been skilled in preserving Belarusian sovereignty and, by doing so, preserving his own power. At this point, sovereignty is a luxury he may no longer be able to afford. Given the limits of Belarusian forces to suppress the demonstrations, Lukashenko’s last chance to survive is to trade sovereignty for real but diminished power by entrusting someone else to put down the unrest. And the most obvious potential partner is Putin.