The Italian prime minister has become the first Western leader to visit Belarus for 15 years.
Silvio Berlusconi was in Minsk mainly to discuss trade and investment opportunities, but his visit carries significant diplomatic undertones. Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has been shunned by the West since coming to power in 1994. He has been accused of stifling human rights and democratic values. President George W. Bush’s administration once referred to him as “Europe’s last dictator.” The EU imposed a visa ban on top Belarussian officials but lifted this ban last year to encourage reforms. On the face of it, the tactic has worked. Berlusconi’s visit came hours after the Belarussian parliament voted to relax the electoral law, a further sign that it is now a country the West can start to do business with.