The Independent: Kolia Lukashenka — Next Dictator of Belarus
The next President of Belarus already has plenty of experience of the trappings of high office, having overseen military parades, sat in on Cabinet meetings, and met several world leaders when he accompanies his father, the current president Alexander Lukashenko, on trips abroad.
But there is something unusual about the nomination of Kolya Lukashenko as the nation's leader-in-waiting – he is seven years old.
Mr Lukashenko has two adult sons, but is estranged from his wife, who it is believed now lives on a cattle farm in rural Belarus. Nikolai, or Kolya for short, was born much later, and the identity of his mother has never been made public.
The child first appeared in public around four years ago, and now sits in on almost all state occasions. He can be spotted strutting around at major military events holding a golden pistol, with generals of the army obliged to salute the infant, and is also now a fixture on his father's infrequent foreign trips.
Mr Lukashenko made the announcement about Kolya's potential succession during a trip to Venezuela this week, where the pair were given a lavish welcome by President Hugo Chavez. "You're correct in pointing out that my kid is here alongside us," said Mr Lukashenko. "This shows that we have seriously and lastingly established the foundation for our cooperation, and that in 20 to 25 years there will be someone to take over the reins of this co-operation."
Kolya, with his blond hair crafted into a nascent mullet, wore a shiny grey suit and tie, and stood up straight while the two presidents spoke, but declined Mr Chavez's offer to make a speech.
"Venezuela is full of joy, decked out to welcome our brother president," Mr Chavez said to Mr Lukashenko. "Over the years we have not only built a true strategic alliance, but a sense of brotherhood."
Mr Lukashenko, who was famously called "the last dictator in Europe", is not welcome in most European capitals and has cultivated alliances with a number of states that oppose US influence in the world, notably Venezuela, Syria, and the Libya of Muammar Gaddafi. He has also visited Cuba and Ecuador on this trip, during which a number of trade and partnership agreements were signed.
"We will… talk about new projects to spite our foes and enemies, no one will stop us on this path," replied Mr Lukashenko in Caracas. "That's my answer to everyone who has doubts about what we are doing… Our state will do anything that my friend Chavez asks for."
Mr Lukashenko has been president of the former Soviet country since 1994, and most recently won re-election in late 2010, in a vote that most observers said was rigged.
In the aftermath, his riot police crushed demonstrations, and most of the people who stood against him were locked up. His main challenger, Andrei Sannikov, was only recently released from prison.
Mr Lukashenko has complained that his country suffered from a "nauseating surfeit of democracy". Mr Chavez has run Venezuela since 1999, and despite a recent battle with cancer he is standing for re-election in October.
Mr Lukashenko will continue his foreign travels at the weekend, when he is due in neighbouring Ukraine for the final of Euro 2012. No European leaders have confirmed their attendance in Kiev, save the President of Poland, which has co-hosted the tournament. European politicians have stayed away from Ukraine in protest at the jailing of the Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko.
If Mr Lukashenko is the only visiting president in the VIP box at Sunday's final, it could be an embarrassing image for Ukraine's President, Viktor Yanukovych.