By April Kent
The European Union is preparing for a four-month suspension of sanctions on Belarus, officials announced on Friday. This move comes in the wake of shifting perceptions of Belarus’ President Lukashenko, known as Europe’s “last dictator” and a close ally of Moscow, following his decision to release six jailed political prisoners in August and hosting of peace talks for Ukraine in February. A formal decision will be made by October 31, barring any last-minute crackdown. As Lukashenko seems poised for re-election, the EU has emphasized that “the conduct of the elections will be an important factor” in the decision to formally lift sanctions. The newly gained access to European capital markets would help Belarus attract EU investment, cutting its dependence on Russia. Lukashenko is highly invested in boosting Belarus’ economy, which is exposed to the recession in Russia and shrank by 4 percent in the period from January to July 2015.