The New York Times: The Belarusian leader can release its competitors in exchange for help

Against the backdrop of the deepening economic crisis in Belarus, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko hinted that can release from prison of political rivals. It sends a signal that can be ready to make a deal with Western governments in exchange for financial support — writes in "The New York Times" Michael Shvirts.

To still Mr. Lukashenko openly mocked the requirements of the United States and the European Union to release about two dozen opposition, who were imprisoned for taking part in a big protest against the victory of President's rigged elections last year.

But now the Belarusian economy was in free fall. Foreign currency reserves are shrinking and prices are rising. Belarusian ruble, which has fallen in price since the beginning of the year, on this week was devalued by an additional 36%, and many economists say it could fall below.

The need for major foreign aid, economists say, but the $ 3 billion loan offered by Russia, will be given immediately, and in any case this is not enough.

Thus, only hope for the West.

"They're still shouting" Free political prisoners, "said Mr Lukashenko on Wednesday, referring to the Western representatives." We could have set them free, nothing to spend public money in prison, eating up the bread. "

Western officials have offered not to react instantly to the statements of Mr. Lukashenko, which are interpreted as a sign that the president may be willing to soften its hard line.

"This is a signal that our government is now open for the transaction," — says Sergei Chaly, an independent economist from Minsk.

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