Belarus has long been a stalwart ally of Russia and dependable buffer between Moscow and the West. But the country has recently been sending some signals that it may be pulling away from Moscow. Last week, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and described the talks as “difficult” – a word you wouldn’t expect to be used to describe a visit between two staunch allies. This week, Lukashenko told a group of newly appointed ambassadors to Minsk that his country would pursue equal ties with the East and the West. Yes, these are just words, but if these words portend a shift in Minsk’s loyalties, it would be a very troubling sign for Russia.
For decades, Belarus and Russia have had a mutual interest in maintaining their bilateral relationship. It was an important Soviet satellite state, and its economy became inextricably tied to Russia’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Half of its trade and foreign direct investment