However, the current trend of spiralling inflation and consumer shortages increases the likelihood of Mr Lukashenka's popularity waning, owing to the considerable additional hardship that Belarus's already suffering population will have to face. Presented with this risk, the president is likely to decide that he has no choice but to scale back policies such as unlimited easy credit to the industrial and agricultural sectors in order to avert hyperinflation.
-- and even a return of the IMF --
The fact that the IMF and the World Bank visited Belarus in early November (see Economic policy) supports the notion that the regime may be forced to shift its stance. Belarus would not only like to see a resumption of loans allocated under its stalled IMF agreement, it would also gladly accept the $100m in additional funding that might be possible under the IMF's Compensatory and Contingency Financing Facility, a programme designed to assist states affected by adverse developments beyond their control. Increasingly, Belarus will face little option but to consider this route, given Russia's inability to absorb imports and the increasing likelihood of hyperinflation.
-- which Mr Lukashenka will find difficult to accept
In order to receive this assistance, Belarus will need to show a willingness to tighten its current soft credit regime, liberalise prices and resume economic restructuring. These are fundamental elements of Mr Lukashenka's system that he will be loath to change. However, if the level of inflation or the balance of payments deteriorate sufficiently that the president appears at risk of losing control of the economy, we consider it likely that Belarus will tighten monetary policy and introduce a degree of economic liberalisation in an effort to secure multilateral support. Although this may be enough to stave off hyper- inflation, it will hardly lead to a fruitful relationship with multilateral donors. Mr Lukashenka will stop short of the fundamental reforms required, and will keep the central elements of his policy in place. As a result, it appears likely that any renewed relationship with the IMF will break down.