A ‘Bridge to the West’ Dies in Belarus, as Moscow Seeks More Help in Ukraine

The thaw in relations with Washington ended abruptly six months later when Mr. Lukashenko, backed by Moscow, used brutal force to end protests by hundreds of thousands of people in Minsk and other Belarusian cities after a rigged presidential election that returned him to office for a sixth term.

Just days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February, thrusting toward Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, from Belarusian territory, Mr. Makei insisted at a meeting with foreign journalists in Minsk that Russia would not invade and that its troops, ostensibly gathered in Belarus for training exercises, would soon all return home.

Valery Kaveleuski, a former Belarusian diplomat who now lives in exile and supports the opposition, said Mr. Makei’s obedience to Mr. Lukashenko meant that he had “completely lost his appeal to the West as well as his ability to influence government policy.” He predicted that his replacement “will hold a similar approach that is submissive to Russia with extremely limited space for maneuver vis-à-vis the West.”

As foreign minister, Mr. Makei led his country’s outreach to the West, which Mr. Lukashenko had tried playing off against Russia in a bid to maintain political power at home.

A reserve colonel in the army who was fluent in English and German, Mr. Makei was a rare senior Belarusian officials who could move between hard-liners in the Belarusian security services and European diplomatic circles, making him a valuable member of Mr. Lukashenko’s team, said Pavel Slunkin, a Belarusian political analyst who had worked under Mr. Makei in the foreign ministry.

“Through him, Lukashenko had found a path to the West,” said Mr. Slunkin, referring to Mr. Makei.

Mr. Makei’s diplomatic efforts fell apart after Mr. Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on street protests in 2020. This failed effort rendered the foreign minister, in the eyes of many Belarusians, a symbol of gradual political change that never came, said Mr. Slunkin.

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