24 imagesPresident Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, in office since 1994, was re-elected on October 11, 2015 to a fifth term with 83.5% of the vote. It's a higher total than ever before; no one believes this to be truthful. It was, however, essentially free of the violence that has marred previous elections. These mixed results evince the tightrope strung between Russia and the West on which Lukashenko finds himself. Russia demands loyalty from its former client state, yet Russia's sinking economic fortunes are dragging Belarus down as well. A need for Western loans to prop up Belarus's moribund, state-dominated economy has elicited greater cooperation and limited concessions to Western demands for openness. With a strong desire to pull Belarus away from Russia's orbit, Europe appears likely to ease sanctions against the country. Lukashenko is genuinely popular at home thanks to a combination of heavy propaganda and genuine stability compared to the turbulence in neighboring Ukraine, and he is appreciated by the West for, if nothing else, his lack of Putinesque militarism. Increasingly, a resurgence of grassroots Belarusian nationalism is developing as a bulwark against Russian cultural hegemony, though paradoxically this is considered subversive and can lead to severe consequences for Belarusian nationalists. I came to Belarus curious what it meant to cover an election in a country where neither media nor elections are free, and more broadly to explore the repercussions of the Ukraine conflict for other countries in Russia's proclaimed sphere of influence. Belarus stands at a fateful juncture. Caught in the geopolitical tides, it may yet navigate a course that balances Russian and Western interests to its own advantage. A more fateful outcome is, however, more likely.