Europe's "last dictator" seems to be feeling the squeeze.
In an unusual show of unity, strength, and resolve, the EU recently froze the assets of twenty-nine Belarusian companies, blocked several accounts, and banned travel to the EU for a number of officials and business people—the toughest Western sanctions yet against Minsk.
And—particularly hurtful to sports fan Lukashenko—EU leaders suggested that Belarus might lose its chance to host the coveted ice hockey world championships in 2014.
The hard line seems to have paid off.
The United States and the EU welcomed the release and pardon of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and fellow activist Dmitry Bondarenko, but called for the immediate release of all other political prisoners. Rights groups say that at least ten opposition activists remain in prison, including another former presidential candidate, Nikolai Statkevich.
Lukashenko, who has stifled dissent and independent media during his almost eighteen years in power, cracked down hard on the opposition following his reelection in December 2010, which he swept with a suspiciously high eighty percent of the vote. Sannikov and several other opposition figures were arrested when they protested election rigging at the polls.