The Belarusian model of an authoritarian state with some elements of socialism, crafted by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, has sputtered out. It’s time for structural reforms in the economy, which may well result in the restructuring of the country’s political system. But this environment does not necessarily presume reloading relations with the West as Lukashenka’s only alternative to the further development of Belarus.

Lukashenka swiftly grasped the fact that the old model of Belarus-Russia relations is dead. He also recognized that a new regime will emerge in Moscow, in a short or medium term, but still inevitably, depending on Putin’s game.

Power has always been Lukashenka’s main objective, while retaining this power has always depended on the economic policy of the official Minsk. For this reason, Alexander Lukashenka has skillfully mastered the art of political bargaining for economic dividends. For quite a long time, he managed to swap political promises for cash. But that was until Putin annexed the Ukrainian Crimea and unleashed both the hostilities in Donbas, and the sanctions war with the West.

Lukashenka swiftly grasped the fact that the old model of Belarus-Russia relations is dead. He also recognized that a new regime will emerge in Moscow, in a short or medium term, but still inevitably, depending on Putin’s game.

As there’s no reason to expect any new financial disbursements from Moscow without a direct link to the Kremlin’s specific requirements (like the construction of a military air base in Bobruisk), Lukashenka stepped up sharply his dialogue with the West. Besides, the end of 2016 marks a deadline for the country’s loan repayments. Belarus owes its foreign creditors nearly $3.5 billion, and it has no money to pay it back. To get more loans, the country desperately needs reform. For this reason, the delegation of the International Monetary Fund visits Minsk once again as Lukashenka makes cheerful comments on the IMF-proposed Belarusian economy reform program, which will allow him to get another $3 billion in financial aid.

Another thing is that such a program is a gravedigger for Lukashenka’s precious "Belarusian socialism."

Lukashenka, who has just been reelected for his fifth consecutive cadence gives the IMF a surprisingly good press, given the Fund’s recommendations have traditionally been tough. For example, the IMF proposes mass privatization of state enterprises and unfreezing of utility tariffs over a period of six to 18 months. Lukashenka can’t be so naïve not to realize that this recipe is nothing else but a "shock therapy," meaning drastic collapse of welfare for several years, at least. The Fund also recommends restructuring of large enterprises, reducing subsidies, raising various tariffs, and cuts in funding of state programs. There’s nothing new, in fact, as this is a standard package of measures proposed by the IMF to transition economies. Another thing is that such a program is a gravedigger for Lukashenka’s precious "Belarusian socialism."

What's even more interesting is that along with rapprochement with the West (a temporary lifting of sanctions against the Lukashenka regime by the EU and the United States for four months is quite a signal), the Belarusian president publicly hinders development of the so-called "Russian world" in Belarus. He is reported massively sacking security officers loyal to Russia, while the local media have noticeably shifted the accents toward promoting the country’s national and cultural independence. Besides, the sermons of ardent adherents of the “Russian world,” as Nikolai Starikov and the like, are being hushed without remorse. However, it’s important to understand that this is not Lukashenka’s westward drift, but merely an attempt to preserve power by gaining access to Western funding.

Lukashenka’s idea voiced at the meeting with the president of Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Christoph Leitl, of the need to rethink a new stage in the life of Belarus is nothing but an attempt to gain time, in order to build a new system of balance between Russia and the West. Lukashenka understands that he will see more money flowing only in return for specific concessions. But he will make these concessions very carefully, step by step, bargaining triple the price for each of them. The Russian loan in exchange for blocking the transit of gas to Ukraine from Lithuania’s newly-built LNG terminal is a perfect example.

As any other authoritarian leader, Lukashenka values and respects nothing else but force, therefore Ukraine’s pragmatic, sometimes even tough, Ukrainian stance on Belarus will be perceived in Minsk adequately.

In this regard, Ukraine should not have any illusions about Lukashenka. He is a very pragmatic politician, trying to bargain on the Ukrainian problems maximum profit. And he bargains with everyone: Moscow, Washington, as well as Brussels, Berlin and other European capitals. In this context, the Ukrainian policy towards Minsk should also be as pragmatic. Each blow to the Ukrainian interests coming from Belarus (which is not a rare case) should see symmetric response in relation to the Belarusian interests in Ukraine (primarily in ​​bilateral trade). As any other authoritarian leader, Lukashenka values and respects nothing else but force, therefore Ukraine’s pragmatic, sometimes even tough, Ukrainian stance on Belarus will be perceived in Minsk adequately.

In the meantime, Lukashenka "skims the cream" in the wake of the food embargo in Russia. According to Russian experts, about 150 trucks of smuggled foreign goods enter the Russian territory from Belarus. This is how the Russians have access to the "Belarusian" shrimp, mozzarella, mussels, melons and other embargoed goods. By the way, the introduction of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Ukraine and the European Union on January 1, 2016, will further escalate the Russia-Ukraine trade war. There is no doubt that the Belarusian leader will try to earn even more cash out of this situation, providing “transit services” due to his country’s geographical position.

The only thing that can speed up the process of internal transformation of Belarus and Lukashenka deciding to make a U-turn toward the West, with all ensuing consequences, is the accelerating collapse of Putin's regime in Russia. It is still unclear, whether Alexander Lukashenka will continue playing political bargaining until that time.

Roman Rukomeda is a political expert