The strongman of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, looks set to win more than a fifth term in office in elections this weekend.
Diplomatic sources suggest that the European Union will lift its sanctions on the country and its authoritarian leader for four months after Sunday’s vote, barring any last-minute crackdown.
Soldiers are already casting their ballots in a poll virtually certain to be won by Lukashenko, who has been in power for 21 years.
A wily operator, he has kept his country in a close strategic alliance with Russia.
But the long-time leader seeks to counterbalance this by making occasional overtures to the West where he has been ostracised for his human rights record and clampdown on political dissent.
But Lukashenko’s hosting of peace talks for Ukraine in February and pardoning of six jailed political prisoners in August have helped thaw relations with the EU which will be keeping a close eye on how the election unfolds.
Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will report back to the European Union following the vote.
Whatever its verdict, a formal decision on any suspension of asset freezes and travel bans is set to come later in October.