Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said he will step down after a new constitution comes into force, according to Belarusian state media.
Why it matters: Lukashenko has faced three months of protests following a rigged election in August. He has promised to reform the constitution to reduce the near-absolute powers of the president, but has insisted that his strong hand is needed to see that process through.
Between the lines: Lukashenko has not held onto power for 26 years by accident, and he's unlikely to simply fade away now — at least not willingly.
- He has slow-walked the constitutional reform process while cracking down on the opposition and ensuring the continued support of the security services.
- Even in announcing that he plans to eventually leave his post, he seemed to leave open the possibility of taking a role other than president.
The other side: Franak Viačorka, a top adviser to opposition leader and self-declared president of "democratic Belarus" Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, tweeted that the opposition movement would "continue insisting on elections before constitution reform."
The big picture: An almost Soviet-style nationalist, Lukashenko played the West and Russia off against one another for years, taking what he could from both relationships.
- But the U.S. and EU turned sharply against him as August's fraudulent election was followed by allegations of torture against protesters.
What to watch: Russia offered Lukashenko public shows of support amid the initial post-election revolt, but analysts have long predicted that the Kremlin would prefer a transition to a more pliable and less politically toxic president.
- Visiting Minsk on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov publicly encouraged Lukashenko to move ahead with the long-promised constitutional reforms.
- "We of course have an interest in the situation being calm, stable and we think that beginning the constitutional reform initiated by the country's leadership would contribute to this," Lavrov said.