Ideally, the Belarusian president would like to not only balance East and West but also exploit the divisions between Moscow and Beijing. But there are few such divisions, with China’s efforts to expand its presence in Eastern Europe, including Belarus, designed to avert a clash with Russia.

Belarus’s cooperation with China has always been informed by its relations with Russia and the West. Hence the original impetus for Minsk’s pursuit of a closer Sino-Belarusian relationship: the 2000s’ oil wars with the Kremlin and EU sanctions.

In 2005, Lukashenko told Xinhua, China’s official news agency, the reason for his newfound attraction to Beijing: “So long as we [Belarus] develop such relations with China, we cannot be isolated.” That same year, he paid a state visit to the PRC, returning with a stack of memoranda and a mountain of promises.